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Johnson's Russia List
7 May 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Financial Times: John Thornhill, Primakov's future at stake.
2. Business Week: Margaret Coke, Is This Russia's Next Prime Minister?
If Primakov goes, Stepashin might be next in the hot seat.
3. Wayne Merry: RE: 3271-Cohen/Yugoslavia.
4. Chris Kedzie: A far, far better thing... (Re Russia and
5. Reuters: Yeltsin blasts NATO, sees few gains with G8.
6. AP: Russia Renews Jehovah's Witnesses.
7. Moskovskiy Komsomolets: Motives behind Moscow May Day Bombings Still
8. Interfax: Zhirinovskiy Sees Cabinet Changes, Failed Impeachment.
9. The Russia Journal: From Pushkin to Pulp Fiction. The free market has
brought quantity, but has it brought quality?
10. Komsomolskaya Pravda: Interview with Russian Premier Yevgeniy
"Russia Is Over the Worst of the Crisis, and Its Premier Is Over the Acute
Phase of His Radiculitis."]
Financial Times (UK)
7 May 1999
[for personal use only]
RUSSIA: Primakov's future at stake
By John Thornhill in Moscow
Speculation was growing in Moscow last night about an imminent clash between
Boris Yeltsin, president, and Yevgeny Primakov, prime minister, which could
lead to the dismissal of the government next week.
The rumours were fuelled by an interview given by Oleg Sysuyev, the deputy
head of the presidential administration, in which he criticised the
government's economic policies and hinted at a reshuffle "No prime minister
is indispensable including Yevgeny Maximovich [Primakov]," Mr Sysuyev told
the Vlast journal.
Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist party, the biggest parliamentary
faction, condemned Mr Sysuyev's comments, saying the prime minister enjoyed
the strong support of parliament and the electorate. "The collapse of the
government would signal the complete crash of the financial-economic system
of the country," Mr Zyuganov said.
Some analysts suggested Mr Yeltsin was indulging in his habitual brinkmanship
ahead of a parliamentary vote next week on whether to impeach the president.
The Communist party is confident it can win the support of two-thirds of the
450 members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, needed to initiate
Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Centre for Political Technologies, a
Moscow-based think-tank, said Mr Yeltsin would certainly sack his government
if the Duma declared war on him next week. But he suggested a confrontation
could still be avoided if parliament backed down.
"The president is clearly trying to scare his opponents on the eve of the
impeachment vote," he said. "But he also understands how suicidal it would be
for him to undertake radical measures before that vote."
Mr Sysuyev also noted the president was keen to avoid an open confrontation
with the Duma and early parliamentary elections because of the disarray among
the centre-right parties he has traditionally favoured.
Tensions between Mr Yeltsin and Mr Primakov have been rising for weeks. On
Wednesday, Mr Yeltsin publicly humiliated his prime minister in a televised
round-table meeting, interrupting Mr Primakov in mid-speech to question his
The president also insisted that Sergei Stepashin, the recently appointed
first deputy prime minister and possible prime ministerial replacement,
should be seated directly next to Mr Primakov - recalling the days when a
Soviet leader's political standing could be judged from where he stood on
Mr Yeltsin has grown more wary of Mr Primakov as the 69-year-old prime
minister has struck political deals with the president's Communist opponents
and consolidated his own power. "The president's jealousy increases as his
power evaporates," said Mr Makarenko.
But clear policy differences have emerged between the president and prime
minister in recent weeks. Mr Yeltsin has lashed out at the government's lack
of economic reforms. A rift has also opened up over Russia's approach to
May 17, 1999
[for personal use only]
Is This Russia's Next Prime Minister? (int'l edition)
If Primakov goes, Stepashin might be next in the hot seat
By Margaret Coker in Moscow
Is Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov's power waning? Only a few
weeks ago, the 69-year-old ex-spymaster was thrusting himself into the center
of key events inside his country and abroad. Indeed, for a couple of days in
April, Primakov seemed to be positioning himself to emerge as a victor in the
Kosovo conflict by brokering peace between NATO and Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic. That could have given Primakov a tremendous boost in
advance of next year's presidential elections in Russia.
Then, President Boris N. Yeltsin swung into action. After weeks on the
sidelines recovering from a stomach ulcer diagnosed in January, Yeltsin rose
from his sickbed and declared: ``I have fully recovered, I am in marvelous
form and ready for battle.'' He immediately appointed former Prime Minister
Viktor S. Chernomyrdin as his envoy to Belgrade, undercutting Primakov. And
on Apr. 27, Yeltsin fired Primakov's right-hand man in the government, First
Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov, and replaced him with his own man,
Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin.
Now rumors are rife in Moscow that Yeltsin is preparing to oust Primakov,
whose growing influence irks Yeltsin. The President appointed Primakov as a
compromise candidate for Prime Minister after last summer's financial crisis,
when the Duma refused to approve his first nominee, Chernomyrdin. Since then,
Primakov has cultivated close ties with the Communist-led Duma, dotted the
government with ex-KGB officers, and consolidated his power.
But he overplayed his hand, analysts say. In January, Primakov wrote a
letter to the Duma requesting deputies to delay a vote to impeach Yeltsin. In
exchange, Primakov proposed that Yeltsin back away from daily duties as
President and take on a ceremonial role, while he would stay on as Prime
Minister until the June, 2000, presidential elections. ``Yeltsin didn't like
being asked nicely to retire early. This was a fatal mistake, and since then
it's been war,'' says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of Moscow's Institute of
In coming weeks, analysts speculate, Yeltsin could try to provoke Primakov
to resign. One way would be to oust two of Primakov's remaining key deputies:
Agricultural Minister Gennady Kulik and First Deputy Prime Minister Yury
Maslyukov, a Communist Party member and key economic policymaker. Primakov
has vowed to resign if Yeltsin fires his top aides. Another test will come in
late May when Primakov must persuade the Duma to pass measures required by
the International Monetary Fund before it issues a new $4.5 billion loan to
Russia. If the Duma refuses to pass the laws, which include an unpopular
alcohol-tax hike, Yeltsin could accuse Primakov of ineffectiveness and demand
that he resign.
CHECHNYA HAWK. In that event, analysts surmise, Yeltsin would tap his newly
appointed First Deputy Prime Minister, Stepashin, as acting Prime Minister.
According to the Russian constitution, when the head of government steps
down, the President must tap a First Deputy Prime Minister to serve as acting
Prime Minister. Stepashin, who as Interior Minister heads Russia's 1.6
million-member domestic militia force, would likely follow Yeltsin's orders
rather than promote his own agenda. A loyal Yeltsin ally, he is known among
Russians for having advised the President to escalate the disastrous conflict
in Chechnya in 1994.
Even as the political duel between Yeltsin and Primakov plays out, the
President still faces an impeachment vote in the Duma on May 13. Few believe
his opponents can muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the five
charges, which range from instigating the 1991 Soviet collapse to pursuing
policies that impoverish the country.
By promoting Stepashin--known as a ``power minister'' because he runs
internal security--Yeltsin keeps the Duma and Primakov guessing about his
tactics. Yeltsin's intentions, however, are clear. He plans to stay in power
until the Presidential elections--and is still capable of putting up a
From: Wayne Merry <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: 3271-Cohen/Yugoslavia,
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999
Stephen F. Cohen has performed a great service in his brief opinion piece in
"The Nation" by drawing attention to the profound moral failures of United
States policy in Yugoslavia. Mr. Cohen is right on the mark in condemning
the use of bombardment of Serbian civil society as an instrument of American
policy, an instrument we condemn as barbaric when employed by others. Mr.
Cohen is also correct when he states that our military actions have greatly
increased the scale of suffering of the Kosovar Albanians without
preparation to assist them. I will add only that the logical, and moral,
consequence of our complicity in this humanitarian disaster is to accept
national responsibility for the displaced victims on a large scale, either
in this country or in the Balkans (recognizing that the likelihood of their
return to Kosovo anytime soon is near zero). We cannot undo our mistakes,
but this country certainly can recognize failure, change course, and
undertake to compensate the innocent human "collateral damage" from our
misuse of our great power. Again, thanks to Mr. Cohen for his perception
and courage of expression.
Wayne Merry, Director
Program on European Societies in Transition
The Atlantic Council of the United States
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Chris Kedzie)
Subject: A far, far better thing . . .
Chris Kedzie, a trained policy analyst and former US military officer, has
been promoting the development of democracy and civil society in the Soviet
space since 1990 and has lived there for more than 5 years including the
last 3 in Moscow. The views contained here are solely his own and do not
necessarily reflect those of any organization with which he is now or ever
has been affiliated.
Can NATO both achieve its objectives in Kosovo and remain whole?
Two things are becoming increasingly evident: first, that the expressed
objective of the bombing cannot be achieved without a ground campaign; and
second, that ground campaign will inevitably split and possibly destroy
If NATO cannot do both, which is more important? This is also the essential
question that Russians, as well as much of the rest of the world, are
asking: What is NATO really fighting for? Its own credibility and
relevance, or the protection of human rights, sanctity of self-determination
and primacy of the rule of law? NATO's predicament may force it to choose
publicly between these two objectives.
Paradoxically, if NATO chooses its own self-preservation and backs off, it
loses face and ultimately relevance. If it presses forward, it puts at risk
other undeniably higher objectives, no less than the security of Europe for
which NATO was originally founded, since a frightened and crippled Russia
would undoubtedly become increasingly and openly aggressive and regressive.
However, would it be possible for NATO to prevent this catastrophe and
achieve its humanitarian objectives if Russia loudly and unequivocally
supported those humanitarian goals and jettisoned the charade of pan-Slavism
that has enabled Milosevic to manipulate this great power? If so, what
might it take to convince Russia that this is in its own best interest to do
so? Russians care far more about their own security than Milosevic's
wellbeing and they perceive NATO as the current biggest threat to their
security (and likely to increase with future expansions.) What if NATO
committed the most heroic and noble act a warrior can commit and gave up its
own life so that others may live in peace and freedom? If NATO were to be
able to offer to disband itself, would Russia be able, in return, to
whole-heartedly embrace the humanitarian goals for which NATO is supposedly
fighting, human rights, self-determination and rule of law?
In the place of NATO, a new security alliance in Europe could be formed in
which Russia would be a founding member and for which those underlying
humanitarian principles would be paramount and guaranteed by sanctions, and
force if necessary (an increasingly egregious lack in the NATO charter
anyway.) In its final act, NATO would be able to claim not only to have won
the cold war, but also to have augured in a new era of European unity and
security where human rights would be respected and defended by all.
Stripped of the cover from his Russian "big brother," completely isolated
and surrounded with truly effective arms and oil embargoes, and uniform
outrage to the human rights abuses in Kosovo, Milosevic would have few
manipulations left. Might he then capitulate or be removed by those
Serbians who also want to be part of a united, free, and democratic Europe?
Ought not the principles for which institutions are founded remain more
important than the institutions themselves?
Yeltsin blasts NATO, sees few gains with G8
May 6, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin renewed criticism of
NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia Thursday and said the threat of war was hanging
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that despite some progress at Thursday's
meeting of his counterparts from the G8 major powers in Bonn, Moscow was not
satisfied with the vague strategy they had approved to settle the Kosovo
The alliance still wants to lead a peace force for Kosovo and the West
rebuffed Russia's call for a halt to NATO strikes.
The G8 -- Russia, the United States, Canada, Italy, France, Japan, Germany
and Britain -- agreed on a strategy for resolving the Kosovo crisis, which
included calls for a Yugoslav troop withdrawal from the province and for
international civil and security presence there to protect returning
The Kremlin issued a statement containing Yeltsin's anti-NATO remarks even
before the meeting was over.
``Our peoples achieved lasting peace at the cost of huge efforts and
sacrifices. However, the shadow of war is hanging over Europe today,''
Yeltsin said in a statement marking the 55th anniversary of the liberation of
the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, now in Ukraine, from Nazi German troops.
``NATO is carrying out naked aggression against a sovereign state --
Yugoslavia. The bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, bringing death
among the civilian population, cannot leave anyone indifferent, especially
those who suffered all the horrors of war,'' he added.
Yeltsin said that peace must be restored, based on the principles established
by the United Nations.
Russia's Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, briefed Yeltsin earlier Thursday
on his mediation efforts and said his immediate task remained to narrow
differences with the West over Yugoslavia.
It was his first meeting with Yeltsin since returning from the United States,
where he met U.S. leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
``The result of all our work and talks is ... that the positions are nearing
each other,'' he told Russian television.
Chernomyrdin said he might hold new meetings with Western and Yugoslav
leaders in the near future, for which he planned to travel to Europe first
and then to Belgrade.
Chernomyrdin, who made a number of diplomatic calls on Thursday, discussed
the Kosovo crisis by telephone with Annan.
``We hope for a greater activity of the United Nations in solving the crisis,
that they put both sides at the negotiations table under their auspices. We
will be around, we will be mediating,'' Chernomyrdin said.
Chernomyrdin also held talks with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Abel
Matutes, who said there had been progress over Yugoslavia in the last few
days but cautioned against expectations of an immediate breakthrough.
Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian diplomat as saying U.S. Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine
were likely to visit Moscow soon for more discussions on Kosovo.
Russia Renews Jehovah's Witnesses
May 6, 1999
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has renewed the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses as
a religious organization, even while authorities in Moscow are trying to ban
the group, church officials said Thursday.
The registration of all religious groups in Russia had to be renewed after
the passage of a religion law in 1997. Any denomination that fails to secure
a new registration would be effectively banned from practicing in Russia.
The Justice Ministry took six months to study the literature and operations
of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and finally granted registration on Wednesday,
church spokesman Alexei Nazarychev said.
``The federal government is trying to follow constitutional principles and
support, as far as possible, the freedom of worship,'' Nazarychev said in a
telephone interview. ``One can see the difference between (federal policies)
and individual bureaucrats who are trying to unleash religious persecution.''
The Moscow city prosecutor's office is trying to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from
Moscow, using a provision in the religion law that gives courts the right to
outlaw religious groups found guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant
Prosecutors say the Christian group creates rifts between family members
because of its practice of not celebrating national holidays, and threatens
lives by pressuring sick people into refusing medical aid.
A court hearing against Jehovah's Witnesses was put on indefinite hold in
March, when the judge decided to allow experts to study the New York-based
The Justice Ministry had its own panel of experts study Jehovah's Witnesses
before renewing the church's registration, but the Moscow court refused to
use the favorable findings of the federal experts, Nazarychev said.
``It would make a lot more sense to use a panel appointed by the state than
to turn to random people,'' he said. ``But the judge said ... we handle our
The denomination has appealed, but no ruling has been made yet, he said.
Despite federal registration, individual cities may still outlaw local
branches of a religious group.
The Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be the fifth-largest Christian group in
Russia, with about 10,000 members in Moscow and more than 250,000 across the
Motives behind Moscow May Day Bombings Still in Doubt
5 May 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Unattributed report: "Police Hit by Explosion of Antisemitism"
By a strange coincidence the two May Day explosions
in Moscow took place right next to not only two Moscow synagogues, but
also.... police polyclinics. The police medical establishments are in
Vtoraya Vysheslavtsevyy Lane (polyclinic No. 1) and in Bolshoy
Spasoglinishchevskiy Lane (polyclinic No. 4). A "medical" motive is not
under serious consideration, although investigators believe that the
location gives it a great impact.
Moskovskiy Komsomolets was told by the Moscow Main Internal Affairs
Administration that the first bomb, which went off in Bolshoy
Spasoglinishchevskiy Lane at 2120 hours, had been concealed in a
thick-walled metal case. The type of explosive has not yet been
identified. The criminals deliberately hid the bomb on a vacant lot, so
that, in the first place, there would be no casualties and, second, the
synagogue itself would not be affected (it was approximately 200 metes
away). In all, 214 windows were broken in building 12, where there is a
The second bomb, which went off 20 minutes later, was more powerful, but
was more cleverly hidden. Even if it has gone off in broad daylight
casualties would have been unlikely: No one ever looks in the shed
between the former University of Railways shooting range premises and a
garage. Again the synagogue was not affected. The wall of the isolation
ward was damaged, the glass was smashed on the Main Internal Affairs
Administration polyclinic emergency staircase from the first to the sixth
floor, and three windows were broken in the former university hostel
building.... In any case, the explosion cannot compare with the one
directly outside the Marina Roshcha synagogue on 13 May lasts year, when
an enormous hole was created in the wall.
Obviously, the two bombs were fitted with delay mechanisms or two groups of
terrorists were operating in the city on the evening of May Day: It would
be nigh on impossible to drive from the center to Marina Roshcha and
plant the fiendish device in the space of 20 minutes. It is not clear yet
who we are supposed to be looking for -- extremists, fascists,
anti-Semites, or enemies of the police. At any rate, the most the
criminals can get for the "holiday' explosions under the "Hooliganism"
article is five years in jail.
Zhirinovskiy Sees Cabinet Changes, Failed Impeachment
MOSCOW, May 5 (Interfax) -- Russian
ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said on Wednesday [5 May] that
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's government might be dismissed this
month and that the current interior minister, Sergei Stepashin, might
become the next prime minister. "May will be rich in political events,"
and the replacement of the Cabinet could well be one of them,
Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR),
told a news conference. He said President Boris Yeltsin has five or six
possible candidates for prime minister, and might name the next head of
government on May 10 or a little later. One of these candidates,
according to the LDPR leader, is Stepashin, whom Yeltsin last week
appointed to the post of first deputy prime minister. Zhirinovsky also
predicted that the current impeachment proceedings launched by the
left-wing parliamentary majority against the president would fail. The
lower house is due to begin its debates on the proposed impeachment on
May 13. In an interview with Interfax, Zhirinovsky denied the speculation
by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov that some of the LDPR lower house
deputies would back the move to impeach. In response to an Interfax
question, the nationalist said that Zyuganov would like to "keep the
country in a nervous state until autumn, and so he most likely wants the
impeachment procedure put off until September or October, realizing that
at present the matter would be a complete failure." "He [Zyuganov] is
promising the people that there will be a replacement of the government,
but instead there will be a replacement of the State Duma, the government
and political parties," Zhirinovsky said. He said that he would be
pleased if the president banned all political groups having the word
"Communist" in their name. [Description
The Russia Journal
May 3-9, 1999
>From Pushkin to Pulp Fiction
The free market has brought quantity, but has it brought quality?
Russia has long had a reputation as a country of book lovers. This, after
all, is a place where novels are traditionally lengthy and everyone seems
able to recite screeds of poetry. It is also one of the stereotypes that
Russians are not averse to - they like to say of themselves that they read
more than in any other country. More serious books too, not pulp, but
literature - Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov - works full of deep meaning that
give sustenance to that enigmatic and profound thing that is the Russian soul.
In the Soviet era, there was a certain truth to the stereotype. Books were a
"deficit item," people would queue for them and hunt them down with great
perseverance. Reading was popular, but then, leisure and entertainment
opportunities were fewer. People did indeed read more "serious" literature,
but they had a choice between that or opuses on the Party, the inevitable
decline of imperialism, and other scintillating subjects. Between Brezhnev
and Bulgakov, the choice was clear.
Market reform in Russia has not seen the demise of reading. People crowd
bookstores, read on the metro and linger around pavement bookstalls. Moscow's
Olympic stadium is now home to the city's biggest book market, and the crush
among the rows is such, on weekends, that it can be hard to move.
The country has some 5,500 publishers, although only a handful have
significant market shares and many publish nothing at all. Contrary to
popular thinking, Russia is not the country where people read the most.
Surveys show that about two thirds of the population will buy books, but only
about a quarter will actually read them.
And finally, there's the "serious" literature myth. What Russians read these
days has little to do with the "classics." Post-Soviet taste in fiction runs
more to detective stories and romance novels. Here, the novelty factor has
come into play. Russians had never known the joys of popular bestsellers and
airport novels. Cut and stamp, easy to digest fiction hadn't any place
amongst Pushkin and the Party classics.
Initially, Western authors were all the rage - crime fiction, horror,
fantasy. Publishers would churn out, confident that pulp-starved readers
would snap them up. In some genres, Russian authors caught on to the trend
and established their own niche. It turned out that people were willing to
read about familiar things. Murders, for example, did not require exotic
locations. Moscow's underworld and rising crime rates have inspired a whole
swathe of home-grown detective story writers, and people eagerly read the
One of the most well known examples is Alexandra Marinina, who herself worked
in the police and draws on her professional experience in her stories. Her
books are on sale in all the shops and kiosks, people read her on the metro,
articles have appeared in newspapers discussing the lifestyle and psychology
of her heroine, policewoman Nastya Kamenskaya, and several of her novels are
being made into a TV series.
Marinina's books are popular because they are like a tension-filled echo of
real life. Even though newspapers and TV constantly pound home the crime
theme, readers never seem to lose their appetite.
The detective story genre now has its own sub-genres too. One of the most
successful recent trends is the "women's detective story" - women authors
writing about women heroines for a specifically female audience.
Murder is a winner then, but love is more problematic. Russian authors have
failed to conquer the romance novel market, despite their best attempts. In
the same way that exotic, Latin American soap operas are popular on TV,
romance, escapism, and dream men, it seems, can only be products of far-off
writers in far-off lands.
But fiction accounts for only about 20 - 30 percent of the book market in
Russia. The reform years have seen a boom in non-fiction of every kind, from
the esoteric to the dull but practical. Computer manuals fill shop shelves
these days, as do books on law, accounting and management - all very
understandable given the vast number of Russians going through professional
recycling or retraining.
Even after slogging dutifully through tomes of professional literature, many
Russians don't seem convinced that fortune will smile on them. But the
publishers have come to their rescue with a whole multitude of recipes for
health, wealth and happiness. Astrology, transcendental meditation, Tibetan
philosophy, American pep-talking gurus - Russian readers can take their pick.
Another recent trend is the encyclopedia explosion. The new encyclopedias
share only their name with more sedate classics like, say, the Great Soviet
Encyclopedia. Most are devoted to one particular subject, like dogs, self
defense, or occult practices. Other popular non-fiction is to be found in the
history sections of bookshops and includes accounts of mafia clans and their
crimes, secret services, dictators, and behind the scenes political intrigue.
As for the old saying that you can't judge a book by its cover, an
illustration of Vladimir Lenin with devil's horns pushing through his skull
indicated correctly a less than objective biography.
But a picture of what appeared to be a sultry-looking prostitute revealed a
serious, academic study of women terrorists in the nineteenth century.
In general, most books on the market look cheap and somewhat tacky, but at
the same time, they are one of the few goods which are still reasonably
priced even after the financial crisis.
And the classics, the great literature for which Russia is famed? The
"serious" books haven't disappeared, but they tend to be published in limited
editions and hunting them down sometimes requires a lot of patience. A bit
like the old days really.
Primakov on Economy, NATO, Personal Health
5 May 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Interview with Russian Premier Yevgeniy Primakov by Yelena Ovcharenko
in Moscow "on the eve of Free Press Day": "Russia Is Over the Worst of
the Crisis, and Its Premier Is Over the Acute Phase of His Radiculitis"
The premier's large office and its smiling
occupant. A pleasant surprise -- literally 15 minutes before the start of
our conversation his accursed radiculitis abated and Yevgeniy Maksimovich
seated us around the table easily and without visible effort.
Komsomolskaya Pravda had long been promised this interview, and it took
the eve of Free Press Day.
I Am Not Deluded: These Ratings Are Not My Own, They Are More Those of
the Entire Government
[Ovcharenko] Yevgeniy Maksimovich, how often do you meet with and telephone
President Yeltsin these days, what do you discuss?
[Primakov] Quite often. I make a weekly report to the president and, of
in the intervals between those reports there is usually a whole series of
telephone calls. The president calls or I disturb him if the need arises.
So I work in full contact with the president -- he is the supreme
official in the state and it is quite clear that the government should be
geared to his instructions and assessments. The president and I reach
agreement on further steps in particular areas, and then the government
takes specific action.
At a recent government session we discussed our plans for the immediate
future in the context of the president's message to the Legislative [as
published] Assembly. So Boris Nikolayevich is apprised of all our work --
the wage payments and the fact that we have nonetheless set about
clearing arrears to federal and local budget-sector employees and cut
arrears to the Pension Fund by half. Incidentally, the government
considers this no mean achievement. People can see it. And the president,
naturally, knows about it. But he also knows about our shortcomings and
often mentions them. For instance, during our last meeting he spoke of
the need to devote even greater attention to employment matters so as to
avoid a sharp rise in unemployment.
The president and I discuss both domestic politics and international
affairs. And in general there are no taboo subjects.
[Ovcharenko] Following your appointment as premier you moved almost like
lightning to the top of most political ratings. You get the impression
that you are literally being urged to be one of the contenders for
president in the next election. Yuriy Luzhkov said so recently, for
instance. Does that change anything in your well-known stance on that
[Primakov] I have already said and I repeat yet again that I have neither
ambition nor the desire to take part in the presidential race. That is my
position and I will not change it even for Komsomolskaya Pravda or for
the sake of this interview. As regards the ratings you mentioned, I am
not deluded -- those ratings are not my own, they are more those of the
entire government. And I will state bluntly that it is very pleasing to
me that the government's ratings are pretty high. Despite the criticism
prevailing in some of the electronic media, on which mainly my
predecessors are invited to appear so they can lecture us and give the
government advice on how to behave, what to do.... You might think we
arrived in government when the economy was flourishing and then destroyed
The assessment of the government is pretty high because, it seems to me,
people felt it was necessary to change or at least shift the emphasis.
Particularly in the context of the development of reform. But here too it
needs to be bluntly stated that we cannot, from my standpoint, regard as
reforms actions where reform of society is not accompanied by the
development of the real economy, where the so-called market
infrastructure relies mainly on loans and credits. And part of it -- the
banking system, a most important sector for the market economy --
although it is being developed, is geared not to the real economy or to
lending to Russian industry and agriculture irrespective of their form of
Instead, it engages mainly in specula***ially have nothing to do with a
genuine market. How can we talk about a market if at many enterprises and
institutions people earn salaries, metaphorically speaking, from two
payrolls -- one official, the other in various forms from hand to hand?
Thus people earn the bulk of their pay without deductions being made by
the employer to the Pension Fund and other funds, and workers do not pay
income tax. What kind of market economy can we talk about in those
Or another issue -- should enterprises and banks which are insolvent be
made bankrupt? Undoubtedly they should. But what if that bankruptcy is
carried out in such a way that creditors simply grab the best bits for
themselves without paying any attention to the needs of production? Can
that be said to be the market? Of course not.
Liberals and neoliberals have devoted their main attention to solving
macroeconomic problems. That is correct, and we are continuing to do
this. But at the same time it is not an end in itself, but a way to
create the conditions for microeconomic development, for the development
of the real economy. And this condition has not been observed. Nor has
the fight against corruption and economic crime been fought to a
[Ovcharenko] The nearer the elections approach, the more persistently
calling on you to decide where you stand. And the reason is
understandable -- even if you do not run in the presidential election,
your position will still largely be a defining one. So which of the
current political forces, in your view, is acting the most responsibly
when it comes to Russia's destiny?
[Primakov] Don't expect too much -- my answer will be diplomatic. I will
support any forces which advocate stability, the strengthening of Russia,
the strengthening of statehood while developing market relations, a
socially oriented economy, and democracy.
I am asked what my attitude is to the alliance between Fatherland and
All Russia. I say unambiguously that it is positive, because I see this
as a positive sign. I can oppose only those forces which direct their
policies against the values I have just enunciated.
But I consider it incorrect for me to participate in any movement while
I am premier.
[Ovcharenko] The president often repeats -- do not try to set me against
Primakov. But at the same time, following the recent vote on Skuratov his
staff effectively accused you, Stroyev, and Luzhkov of playing up to the
general prosecutor. How would you comment on that situation?
[Primakov] I can state definitely that the president was angry about
did not come from the president.
Why Does the State Have a Tight Rein?
[Ovcharenko] You are effectively fighting to strengthen federalism in both
politics and the economy. If that is so, what persuades you that there
should be state capitalism in Russia?
[Primakov] I am not in general a supporter of labeling things as
"capitalism" right now. We should have gotten away from that long ago. I
read a very interesting book by Gavriil Popov -- "Will Russia Have A Next
Millennium?" [Budet li u Rossii sleduyushcheye tysyacheletiye?]. I have
long been in tune with many of the ideas expressed in it. One of them is
that there is currently a post-industrial society in the West. This is
not capitalism as we understood it before the Great Depression of
1929-1930. This is a society based on three forms of ownership --
private, state, and collective. Something similar is emerging in our
country as well.
For instance, I am a supporter of the theory of convergence. It consists
of a mutual influence between socialism and capitalism, as a result of
which something with diffuse characteristics of the two systems emerges.
After all, we were assured that socialism would not accept market
relations or that the capitalist world would totally reject regulating
state measures -- planning at a certain level, if you like. But this is
absolutely not the case. I recall that Wassily Vasilyevich Leontief, who
worked at the Gosplan [State Planning Committee] in Moscow in the
twenties, was then sent to work at the trade mission in Berlin, and from
there emigrated to the United States. How did he win his fame when he
became one of the best-known economists in the world? By introducing
linear programming, taking that experience from the Gosplan.
The state's role at various stages of a country's development is seen in
different ways -- with greater or lesser force. But there is one natural
law. When a country emerges from crisis the state always strengthens its
influence over the economy.
I recently met with my old friend Otto Wolff von Amerongen, one of the
"captains" of German business. This man did a great deal to bring Germany
and the Soviet Union closer together. And he told me: "You can't even
imagine what a tight rein the government kept us private entrepreneurs on
when Germany was emerging from crisis after World War II on the basis of
the Marshall Plan." Yet for some reason there was a widely held view here
that the main thing was to rush into the market and everything would
"come out right" and sort itself out without any state intervention,
without any regulation, and without any regulating state "injections" in
various spheres. Those who clung to those dogmas were clearly wrong.
[Ovcharenko] Yevgeniy Maksimovich, how do you as premier and as an
react to the sensational statements claiming that the world crisis is
[Primakov] I would say more that it is past its peak. The crisis is by no
over yet, because it requires the restructuring of many structures and
the reorienting of many programs. And that will be a pretty protracted
process. As for us, Russia, it seems to me, is over the most acute phase.
There may still be some ups and downs to come, but, at the same time,
inflation has been prevented from turning into hyperinflation --
moreover, we have managed to reduce it sharply. Other macro indicators
have been improved too.
You well recall that when our government came to power many people said
that we would now switch the printing presses on and defraud everyone,
that money would start to lose value at a catastrophic rate, that prices
would skyrocket, and that the dollar would hit 50 [to the ruble] by the
start of the year. They predicted total collapse in December, January,
February, March, and April. Which reminds me personally of the old story
about the four main enemies of agriculture. Remember it? They are spring,
summer, fall, and winter.
Now governors and the leaders of many regions are reporting from local
level that the economic situation is not only not deteriorating, there
has actually been a certain upturn. It is still too soon to say this is a
victory, but, at any rate, there is movement in this direction.
[Ovcharenko] The situation in the North Caucasus has deteriorated sharply
again, and Stepashin made the statement that he had ordered the Chechnya
border to be closed and "all criminals to be destroyed" mercilessly. In
your view can this approach toward solving the problem be put into
practice, given that there is no fortified border in this worrying area?
[Primakov] Security undoubtedly needs to be strengthened. First and
the security of neighboring regions, rayons, oblasts, republics, and so
forth. And I think that in principle Stepashin is right -- we need to
punish bandits who use terrible methods such as taking nine-year-old
children hostage or trading people. And I hope that Maskhadov and his
entourage will make efforts to restore order.
In general such statements should not be taken literally. For instance,
I once said that 96,000 prison places would be vacated as a result of an
amnesty, and they should probably be filled by economic criminals. That
was said to demonstrate that we will combat economic crime, but it was
taken literally. I do not support arresting people right, left, and
center. Everything should be done only in accordance with the law, and we
must not retreat from that under any circumstances. The main thing that
concerns me is to ensure that the money that has gone out of Russia is
returned. I am prepared to do everything that needs to be done to this
end. Up to and including announcing an amnesty for that money. I want
these funds to come back and be invested in our economy. Not necessarily
so as to arrest people and put them in jail. But, at the same time, we
must continue to resolutely combat economic criminals and those who are
defrauding the state and society, and not making payments to the budget.
No state can tolerate the nonpayment of taxes, you know. That is the
biggest crime in the United States, for instance.
[Ovcharenko] Incidentally, about economic abuses. You had a secret and
meeting with Boris Abramovich Berezovskiy....
[Primakov] Why secret and mysterious? Yes, he and I hold entirely different
views. But in no way does that mean that I should not meet with him. The
fact that I don't think that he or I changed our point of view is another
matter. But such meetings are not without their uses. The meeting had
nothing to do with the criminal case currently instituted against him.
Incidentally, I would note that the various statements along the lines
that virtually the premier himself is organizing some kind of criminal
cases or that Primakov is aware of how they are going are idle
speculation. The Prosecutor's Office has received no indications either
from the government or from myself personally on the Berezovskiy case. I
learned about this from the newspapers -- from yours in particular.
[Ovcharenko] You once said that you would resign if Maslyukov and Kulik
dismissed from the government. Does that condition remain in force?
[Primakov] Yes, unambiguously.
[Ovcharenko] Should any other government reshuffles be expected following
[Primakov] That is not a question for me. After all, the appointment of
premiers and of ministers too is the president's province. My province in
this situation is to stay or to go. At the same time, I never said that I
would oppose any changes in the government. On the contrary, a government
is a living organism, and natural changes to it should and will occur.
But since you mentioned Maslyukov and Kulik, I believe that their
departure would deprive us not only of very professional and dedicated
workers, but also of many important opportunities, not least in the
sphere of links with legislative organs, and of a shock-absorbing and
stabilizing role for the government as a whole.
Moreover, they work not as party appointees, but as part of a unified
I believe that the campaign being conducted against them is simply
unworthy and, moreover, is hampering the government's work.
NATO Has Not Calculated Even Two Steps Ahead [subhead]
[Ovcharenko] What is your forecast of the development of the situation in
[Primakov] I should like to think that there will be no ground operation,
because that will lead to inevitable escalation of the conflict. And then
it ought to be borne in mind that the Yugoslavs are people who know how
to fight in defense of their independence. What NATO is doing in
Yugoslavia really makes my blood boil. It is no longer even denying that
the number of casualties among the peaceful population is increasing. At
the outset the alliance spokesman was saying that this was all lies, but
then he was forced to admit the fact. What is happening there really is a
Some way out of the situation has to be found, and Russia is looking for
it. The situation now is such that the Yugoslavs can see that Russia is
with them. And not just because we are linked by Orthodox or Slavic
community but because the barbarous bombing attacks on Yugoslavia
essentially represent the establishment of a NATO-centric model.
Decisions are being made in the West right now that practically cancel
out the entire structure of the postwar world order, which even in the
Cold War years allowed us to avoid clashing with one another militarily.
[Ovcharenko] A simple question which recurs in dozens of letters from our
is: Is there any likelihood that these events will draw Russia
willy-nilly into a third world war?
[Primakov] Thank God that it has not begun before now. But this is a very
dangerous pattern of events. And that has to be understood first and
foremost by the United States and those countries that boss the show in
NATO. I find it amazing that they have not been thinking even two moves
ahead. It is simply some kind of cowboy shootout, a mindless show of
muscle. Don't they remember the example of Iraq? The bombing is
continuing, but what have they achieved by it? Nothing except for a
situation in which everything has to start over from "square one." The
air strikes have thrown a lot of processes into reverse. I'm thinking of
the special commission on Iraq, which can no longer even be considered.
And the monitoring that needs to be reestablished.
And what are they trying to achieve in relations with Russia? All they
have achieved is a rising wave of anti-Americanism in Russia and growing
influence for the isolationists, who will say: Just look what kind of a
world surrounds us.
[Ovcharenko] It was unusual to see you looking stiff over the past few
it is noticeable that your illness is already "on the mend." Was this
attack of radiculitis your first?
[Primakov] The first one that was so acute, yes. But, clearly, the
has been having an effect. I've had physiotherapy and a range of other
procedures. Incidentally, I was very touched that letters and telegrams
flooded in with advice on what sort of treatment I should have. But, of
course, I cannot test them all out myself.
[Ovcharenko] Yevgeniy Maksimovich, have you read the two books about you
of our colleagues have written?
[Primakov] Yes, I am grateful to them for their attention and goodwill
me. It is a pity that they nonetheless contain factual inaccuracies.
[Ovcharenko] And what can the most unbiased person -- your two-year-old
granddaughter Mashenka -- say about the Russian premier?
[Primakov] She usually asks me to sing a little song about "granddad Zhenya
[diminutive of Yevgeniy]." I eventually realized that she wanted to hear
"birthdays come but once a year." You don't need to print that, of
[Ovcharenko] Secrets from the press again? Surely not; and please tell us
recent joke you sincerely enjoyed.
[Primakov] Not every premier flies to the middle of the Atlantic....
[Ovcharenko] Komsomolskaya Pravda published that one! Thank you, Yevgeniy
Maksimovich, for the interview, for not taking umbrage at our criticism,
and for sharing a laugh together!
[Description of Source: Komsomolskaya Pravda -- One of Russia's
largest-circulation and most outspoken dailies, now controlled by
Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank.]