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Johnson's Russia List
10 May 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Russia marks Victory Day with parade on Red Square.
2. Financial Times (UK): John Thornhill, Zyuganov moves against Yeltsin.
3. Ira Straus: Victory Day.
4. The Times (UK): Anna Blundy, In a village called Brick Factory....
(at the dacha).
5. Izvestia: Alexander Sadchikov, Skuratov's Fourth Report.
6. New York Post: John Dizard, BORIS IS READY TO LOWER THE BOOM ON
7. From Pravda.
8. Jamestown Foundation Prism: Vladimir Mironov, OLYMPUS ON FIRE: ON THE
BRINK OF CHAOS OR THE THRESHOLD OF STABILITY?]
Russia marks Victory Day with parade on Red Square
May 9, 1999
MOSCOW (AP) -- Thousands of soldiers and musicians paraded across Moscow's
Red Square on
Sunday as Russians took part in nationwide celebrations to mark the 54th
anniversary of the
defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Russia lost a staggering 27 million people in the war, and Victory Day is
a revered holiday. Television has shown scores of Soviet-era war movies
over the last several
days, and posters and signs celebrating the day are plastered around Moscow
and other cities.
Still, much of the fervor surrounding the anniversary has died down since
when the holiday was celebrated as a communist victory over fascism.
This year's Red Square parade was much smaller because of the country's
problems and cuts in the military. Some 5,000 troops marched past in the
President Boris Yeltsin -- who many World War II veterans and Communist
of destroying the country Nazi Germany could not -- addressed the event.
In a short speech, Yeltsin mostly avoided mention of the Soviet Union and
Soviet army, instead calling the holiday a victory for Russia.
"Today, the holiday of victory unites all Russians, independent of
persuasions or biases," Yeltsin
said, standing on a small podium in front of Lenin's tomb on Red Square.
and now, the strength of Russia lies in national concord and unity."
Ceremonies marking Victory Day took place at several other cities in
Russia and the
former Soviet Union. In St. Petersburg, city residents held a moment of
silence for those
who died in a three-year siege by Nazi forces. Historians say nearly 1
the city's 3 million people died, mainly of hunger and cold.
In Jerusalem, several hundred veterans of the Soviet army waved old
battalion banners and
wore their medals in a march.
The veterans gathered for a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been courting the
influential Russian vote
ahead of May 17 elections.
Financial Times (UK)
10 May 1999
[for personal use only]
RUSSIA: Zyuganov moves against Yeltsin
By John Thornhill in Moscow
Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russia's Communist party, yesterday urged all
opposition parties to back impeachment proceedings against President Boris
Yeltsin, claiming 259 of 450 MPs supported the move.
Speaking to thousands of Communist supporters outside the Lubyanka
headquarters of the former KGB, Mr Zyuganov said the forces of the left
must unite to "remove Yeltsin and his camarilla [cabal]".
Communist officials appeared confident of winning over two-thirds of
Russia's MPs by the time parliament debates the issue on Thursday. Such
support would be sufficient to trigger formal impeachment proceedings
against Mr Yeltsin and spark the sharpest confrontation between president
and parliament since the Supreme Soviet was forcibly dissolved in October
Mr Yeltsin, who claims to be in "good form" and ready for battle, has
already made clear he would vigorously respond to any move to impeach him -
even though the proceedings would be extremely unlikely to succeed before
the president's term expires in the summer of 2000.
Kremlin aides have threatened that Mr Yeltsin would sack Communist
ministers from his compromise cabinet and might even dismiss Yevgeny
Primakov as prime minister.
Mr Zyuganov, who leads Russia's biggest parliamentary party, warned that
protesters would take to the streets if Mr Yeltsin dismissed the
government, which commands widespread parliamentary and popular support.
Political observers suggest the presidential administration may yet head
off a direct confrontation with parliament - as it has done many times
before. Mr Yeltsin has recently been wooing the liberal Yabloko faction,
which could be the swing vote in the impeachment debate. But Mr Yeltsin's
public support is languishing at all-time lows and he may only jeopardise
his own position by sacking Mr Primakov.
Opinion polls show Mr Primakov is currently Russia's most trusted
politician and would be a strong presidential contender.
Questions have also been raised about the state of Mr Yeltsin's health
after the president stumbled over some steps on Friday when laying a wreath
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Kremlin aides later sought to suppress
television footage of Mr Yeltsin's incoherent comments about the Yugoslav
From: IRASTRAUS@aol.com (Ira Straus)
Date: Sun, 9 May 1999
Subject: Victory Day
Happy Victory Day!
It's good at this moment to be able to step back and remember the days when
our countries were fighting on the same side; and to celebrate our common
deliverance from the nightmares of world war and Nazism.
I have only one more wish for this day: that in the future our countries will
be celebrating this day together.
It's a pity America doesn't celebrate Victory Day on the same date as Russia.
For that matter, it's a pity that NATO isn't celebrating this day alongside
Russia. After all, 1945 was a victory for the Atlantic Alliance, too. It's a
strange thing, come to think of it, that the Atlantic Alliance just
celebrated the 50th anniversary of its "founding" in 1949, yet it was already
fighting against Hitler a few years before that founding. It looks like
something got screwed up in someone's history books. Maybe next year we can
have a joint Russia-America-NATO 55th anniversary Victory Day celebration.
Next year in Moscow AND Washington!
And for this Victory Day, best wishes to all -- to all the friends of this
Committee of course, and for that matter to everyone else as well,
Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO
The Times (UK)
May 10 1999
[for personal use only]
'Valera and his kebabs exploded into the peace and quiet, all sizzling lamb,
charred fish, oozing tomatoes . . . we had been eating solidly for more than
In a village called Brick Factory, a two-hour drive from Moscow, the banya
was heating up. Pies were being taken out of the oven, caviar spooned into
glass bowls, vodka placed in the freezer and aubergines rammed on to skewers.
The guests were on their way.
When English politicians retire to the country, we know that they just sit
around in their cardigans writing tedious memoirs, so when Russians retire to
the dacha it can be tempting to imagine them doing the same. In fact, they
are probably having the time of their lives. Yevgeni Primakov, the Prime
Minister, in his regular denials that he intends to run for President, often
talks about retreating to the country to do some fishing. For everybody who
is anybody knows that summer days at the dacha are the whole point of Russia.
One meets people who have come to Russia on package tours, have traipsed
round the Kremlin in the snow, seen queues and tower blocks, eaten
unidentifiable meat in grease sauce and been mugged near their hotel. They
wince at the thought of the place and widen their eyes in admiration at the
mention of anyone actually living here. This is because they have not tasted
By three o'clock the house nearest the brick factory itself (once the home of
its late director and now his daughter's country hideaway) is buzzing with
activity. People in the trains that trundle past the garden's end can see two
babies sleeping in their prams under a makeshift garden shelter, smoke piping
out of the bathhouse chimney, and coals being stoked for the barbecue.
To get there one has to drive behind the village youth club, a grand,
colonnaded building that once housed a cinema and a sports hall and was the
centre of Soviet life for the under-twenties. Now it is crumbling away and
acned boys with quiffs and an attitude slope around in groups outside
smoking. The rest of the village is made up of low blocks of flats for the
factory workers set along tree-lined dirt streets, half mud, half dust. Dogs
wander listlessly about and washing hangs out of the windows, leant over by
haggard-looking women in aprons wondering where their youth has gone.
Sitting at the dining-room table, behind lace curtains and in front of a
dauntingly lavish spread, my husband and I were forgiven for being Nato
aggressors and imperialist slime and the toasts began. It was only five
o'clock but the empty bottles were piling up on the floor and the vast trays
of smoked fish, cold meat and salads were almost empty.
Valera was busying himself with the glinting skewers, and clouds of smoke
billowed out from under his fingers as the rest of us piled into the
unthinkable heat of the banya to hit each other with bunches of oak leaves.
"You are not in London now," somebody said when I mentioned I had forgotten
my bikini. People fell about laughing. The mud-caked guard dog strained at
his chain and barked at the noise emanating from the wooden hut.
Afterwards, wrapped in our sheet togas in the banya's slightly cooler room,
everybody greeted each other red-cheeked with the words "s lyogkhim parom"
(with a light steam) and sat down to spoonfuls of purple jam and cups of tea
from the growling silver samovar. At this stage, Valera and his kebabs
exploded into the peace and quiet, all sizzling lamb, charred fish, oozing
tomatoes and glistening aubergines. By now we had been eating solidly for
more than six hours.
Later, the light had dimmed to a pale streak on the horizon and only the
glowing cinders and the orange tips of people's cigarettes were visible
through the darkness. Those of us not staying the night piled back into our
cars, twice as heavy as when we had arrived, and deafened the whole village
with the engines' sudden roar. It was time to go back to Moscow, which,
suddenly remarkable for its street lights and jaunty shop signs, seemed like
the centre of civilisation compared to the distant backwater of Brick
The brick factory barely works now, the couple of hundred inhabitants are
jobless and the hope of industry suddenly being revitalised is vanishing. It
has become a museum piece, picturesque in a Gogolian way, and remarkable only
for the warmth and generosity of at least three of its weekend inhabitants.
But leaving aside contemplation of the younger inhabitants' future, and
remembering instead the shashliki, the sweet champagne and the huge, steaming
hulk of Alyosha emerging laughing from the banya, we for our part felt
incomparably lucky to have been invited to spend the day in Brick Factory.
May 7, 1999)
Skuratov's Fourth Report
IZVESTIA expects members of the upper house of parliament to take enquiries
into sensational criminal cases affecting high-placed officials under their
own control as a result of Thursday's (May 6) meeting of the Federation
Council's ad hoc commission on corruption. According to Commission Chairman
Oleg Korolyov, commission members came to the conclusion that "further
dynamism should be imparted to these cases" after hearing what Yury Skuratov
had to say as he addressed Thursday's closed session. He said the
commission's purpose was not to apportion blame but "look for legislative
methods of enhancing the Federation' Council's role in improving legislation
concerning the fight against corruption."
The paper observes, however, that many of the Senators are in favor of a
more specific objective: they maintain that the commission should look into
the circumstances surrounding the initiation of legal proceedings against
Skuratov and scrutinize documents relating to "sensational cases" [of
corruption in high places].
Despite precautions taken by the Federation Council to keep the content of
Skuratov's report to the commission secret some details have become available
to IZVESTIA. The paper says Skuratov's report did not differ much from what
he had said in his previous reports to the Federation Council on March 17 and
April 21 and his report to the State Duma on April 7. On Thursday he simply
reiterated the names of the companies being investigated by the
Prosecutor-General's Office (Mabetex, FIMACO, Aeroflot and others). Instead
of naming persons involved in corruption he talked about the unlawful nature
of legal action against him and the need to "bring sensational criminal cases
to an end." For his part, Acting Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika assured
commission members that legal proceedings against Skuratov had been
instituted in full conformity with the law.
One of the commission members told IZVESTIA on the eve of Thursday's meeting
of the commission that if "the Skuratov issue" was not resolved by strictly
legal methods, a political solution would have to be found. Many observers
are expressing the view that the Federation Council and the Kremlin must
agree on a candidate for Skuratov's successor. It is noteworthy that on the
eve of the commission meeting Oleg Korolyov and deputy head of the
President's administration Oleg Sysuyev met to discuss the possibility of the
President renewing his request for Skuratov's resignation. The paper expects
Skuratov to lose his post after all if the President forwards his request
before the next session of the Federation Council scheduled for May 19.
NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA [05/07/99, p. 3] quotes Skuratov as telling journalists
after emerging from the meeting of the commission that he did not understand
why Acting Prosecutor-General had removed Mikhail Katyshev from the post of
head of the Department of Investigation of the Prosecutor-General's Office,
considering that Katyshev had presided over "a well-organized" team. From now
on the work of the Prosecutor-General's Office might be afflicted with all
sorts of "discrepancies," Skuratov said.
Although Commission Chairman Oleg Korolyov did say at a briefing after the
meeting that Skuratov had revealed some particulars concerning some of the
more prominent cases of corruption, he refused to go into detail, pointing
out that all of the commission members had vowed not to disclose any details
concerning commission proceedings.
SEGODNYA [05/07/99, p. 2] does not think that the Senate set up the
anti-corruption commission with the express purpose of saving Skuratov's
reputation. As pragmatic people members of the upper house of parliament
realize that Skuratov will have to leave his post sooner or later. But the
Senate is unwilling to make a definitive decision on Skuratov before the [May
13] impeachment vote by the State Duma. Although lobby interviews have spoken
of May 19 as the new day of a Federation Council vote on Skuratov, there is a
good chance of the vote being put off until a later date if the Duma's
relentless battle with Yeltsin over impeachment goes beyond May 13.
Furthermore, Senators have so far failed to persuade the President to give
them intelligible commitments with regard to procedures for the removal of
the Prosecutor-General from office. It is quite likely therefore that the
anti-corruption commission may come up with a formula in time for the next
meeting of the Federation Council, which could be adopted as an amendment to
the law on the Prosecutor-General's Office after being approved by the
KOMMERSANT-DAILY [05/07/99, p. 1] quotes Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketsky as
telling its correspondent before the commission's meeting that its purpose
was to resolve the problem amicably. But as it turned out later, the paper
writes, during the meeting Skuratov and Chaika got involved in a squabble
that erased all chances of an amicable outcome.
The paper feels Skuratov expects the Kremlin to take a first step toward
reconciliation but the President's administration prefers a wait-and-see
tactic. The Kremlin spokesman at the commission meeting, Andrei Loginov,
stressed that he had not been authorized to make any statements on the
Skuratov affair and that he himself should rather be regarded as an observer.
Members of the Federation Council do not seem to believe that details
concerning criminal cases against ranking officials involved in corruption
will ever reach them. "I was sure from the very beginning," one of the
Senators is quoted as saying, "that nothing will be disclosed to us."
The Kremlin has deprived Senators of ammunition in their bargaining with it
by pretending that Skuratov is no longer a major irritant but Senators hope
that this is not yet the end of the bargaining. Oleg Korolyov, for example
did not mince words when he as much as asked the Kremlin to create "another
legal excuse" for horse- trading by persuading the President to ask the
Federation Council to support his request for the removal of Skuratov from
the post of Prosecutor-General.
New York Post
May 9, 1999
[for personal use only]
BORIS IS READY TO LOWER THE BOOM ON EUROBONDS
By JOHN DIZARD (email@example.com)
BACK in early November, I suggested buying Russian Eurobonds, since I
thought the gloom and doom was overdone back then.
At the time, for example, the Russian 83/4 percent bonds of 2005 were selling
for between 27 percent and 29 percent of their face value. The idea worked.
The '05s were selling for 44 percent of face value by last Friday.
Sell them now. President Yeltsin has some not-so-fun political surprises in
store for everyone this month. His opponents aren't going to take this lying
down. Get out while the going is good.
A couple of weeks ago, I was down in Washington for the semiannual meeting of
the Institute for International Finance. These are bankers, bond managers,
macroeconomists - not one's image of hotheads. But faced with their
tormentors - Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and IMF economist
Stanley Fischer - they turned into an enraged mob.
The problem was the plan by the U.S. and IMF officials to force troubled
countries to reschedule global bond issues on more or less the same terms as
government-to-government loans and bank debt. They call it "comparable
It's one of those ideas that makes sense if you've grown up inside one of
those plastic bubbles that insulate vulnerable children from disease, or
academic economists from real-world data.
The bonds aren't "comparable." Banks that give countries a break can get back
concessions on, say, buying local operations. Governments giving their fellow
officials longer and more liberal repayment terms can get better deals on
treaties or - as with Russia in regard to Kosovo - military restraint. But
bondholders get no such offsets. If they don't get their interest and
principal payments on time, there's no way for them to make them up.
You can see where the pressure comes from: political opposition to IMF and
direct government "bailouts" of private creditors. Fair enough. Or it would
be if the tax-and-plan policies pushed by IMF and the "development economics"
consultants were any good.
Instead they reduce growth rates and discourage developing countries from
making the legal and economic reforms that would improve their
creditworthiness. So why should bondholders pay the price for policies that
are contrary to their interests?
What they'll do instead is withdraw their money from the market, which is
exactly the opposite of what Summers, Fischer, et al., want them to do.
At the same time Summers has been angering the bondholders, he's been calling
for countries and lenders to shift away from short-term lending. As he told
the financiers in Washington, "Surely the price of longer term and less risky
types of borrowing [i.e., Eurobonds] is a price worth paying."
Is he listening to himself?
Part of the problem is that both Fischer and Summers are too arrogant to
publicly admit they didn't know what they were talking about. Too bad for
them - they looked foolish saying some bonds were issued at spreads over
Treasuries of 1,000 basis points. Simply not true.
In the end, Summers and the IMF are going to quietly back away from their
talk of "comparability." They've already noticed that the legal problems of
retroactively imposing their doctrine on U.S. holders are probably
In the meantime, emerging-markets borrowers will have paid millions in extra
interest costs because of the higher risk premiums their threats have raised.
>From the newspaper "Pravda"
On its front page the newspaper publishes an open letter to the American
president composed by a Montenegrin writer Yole Stanishich. Mr. President,
it’s written in the letter, you call your country “peace-loving, civilized,
defender of human rights and personal freedoms”, but what you are doing
turned it into a monster, the world’s biggest factory of highest
technologies of death. You speak of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but what do
you and your counsellors know of Kosovo? It is a battle-field sacred to all
Slavs, where the destiny of Europe was decided six hundred years ago. It’s
the place where Serb epos was born. The people living there have always
cherished it and protected it from any profanation. For Kosovo is the Serb
Golgotha and the Resurrection. Many Serbs and Montenegrins that for years
had lived in the United States often come to the Kosovo field to take a
handful of the sacred earth to their temples and homes. Your hopes, mr.
President, for a split in our people and for a victory over them are
futile. Today’s Serbs and Montenegrins are the descendants of the fighters
that marched to eternity in 1389.
You bombed the Serb city of Kraguevac where the Nazi Germans shot 7000
people including whole schools of children together with their teachers.
You too were extremely cruel to our sacred places, our cities, our nature
and our children. I am sorry for your daughter . She will be horrified by
what you have done. Your image is forever disfigured by the crimes you have
On the eve of the Victory day the Pravda publishes reminiscences of former
soldiers who recall the battles in which they had fought together. One of
them said that what the present-day Russian “sorry reformers” were trying
in vain to take away from them in recent times was a deep-felt need for
justice. You might call this need “Russian or Soviet” in origin but surely
this was something that helped a lot of people, reinforced them spiritually.
The WWII veterans, participants of the 1945 Victory parade on the Red
square, met in Moscow recently, reports the Pravda. They adopted a
resolution on the present-day situation in the world. The NATO agression
against Yugoslavia has been going on for more than a month now, it runs. It
is being perpetrated in a cowardly manner, by nights, without a stop even
for the Easter festivities. Russia’s president B.Yeltsin adopted a stance
of appeasement towards the agressor although he deplored the hostilites in
words. Contrary to the recommendations of the national parliament he vetoed
military technical assistance to Yugoslavia, turned a cold shoulder to its
request to be adopted into the Union of Russia and Belorussia. What the
NATO leaders are doing is just about the same as what Hitler had done in
Europe. The Hitlerite criminals were finally castigated by the Nuremberg
tribunal. The present-day NATO leaders Clinton, Schroeder, Blair and Chirac
should bear this in mind.
THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION
A BI-WEEKLY ON THE POST-SOVIET STATES
5/7/99 No.9 Part 2
OLYMPUS ON FIRE: ON THE BRINK OF CHAOS OR THE THRESHOLD OF STABILITY?
By Vladimir Mironov
Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a senior fellow of the Institute of
International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of
Sciences in Moscow.
Since the start of the year, Russia's domestic political climate has been
heating up. Paradoxically, the first symptom of political tension came with
Yevgeny Primakov's January proposal to conclude a "nonaggression pact" to
maintain the status quo among the Kremlin, the White House and the
parliament building with regard to personnel, and also to ensure that each
side should reject any initiatives designed to lead to a vote of no
confidence in the government, the start of impeachment proceedings against
the president or the dissolution of the State Duma. Russian history and
current political reality reveal no examples of preventive measures taken by
the authorities to deal with potential challenges and threats. As a rule,
the authorities demonstrate a persistent tendency to react impulsively to
events that have already happened. As the first 100 days of Yevgeny
Primakov's government came to an end, several things were happening
--Representatives of the president, the Council of Ministers and the two
chambers of the Federal Assembly held talks on signing a joint declaration
"On the reinforcement of civil peace and political stability in the
country," but the talks eventually broke down.
--Intrigues surrounded the dismissal of Yuri Skuratov from his post as
prosecutor general of the Russian Federation; a victim of these intrigues
was the head of the president's administration and Security Council
secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha, who was relieved of his posts by the head of
--Open conflict broke out between Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and CIS
Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky, which resulted in the latter being
edged away from the real reigns of power--access to the head of state. It is
possible that the last Russian "oligarch" to remain afloat in politics after
the events of August 17, 1998 has only suffered a temporary loss of
influence. This is attested, in particular, by the appointment of Alexander
Voloshin, an old business partner of Berezovsky's, as head of Boris
Yeltsin's administration at the end of March this year.
--An increasing number of questions were asked in the president's
administration about how much positive movement there had been in the
Russian economy as a result of the work of the current Council of Ministers.
Doubts began to be voiced about the effectiveness of the efforts of the new
government in overcoming the economic crisis in Russia.
--Pressure increased on the government from various sources---a number of
parliamentary parties (Yabloko, LDPR), former members of the government
(Viktor Chernomyrdin, the leader of Russia is Our Home), and the leaders of
liberal parties and movements Yegor Gaidar (Russia's Democratic Choice),
Sergei Kirienko (New Force), Boris Nemtsov (Young Russia) and Boris Fedorov
(Forward, Russia)--demanding the replacement of three members of the cabinet
who were linked to the KPRF and the Russian Agrarian Party before they
joined the executive.
In mid-April, the latent tension in relations between President Boris
Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov began to erupt in public clashes
between the two statesmen. Russian society and the ruling elite have been
struck by the feeling that the developments of the first four months of the
year on the Russian political scene are an oblique sign that some event is
imminent which may affect the lives of Russia's citizens. It is no
coincidence that the speaker of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroev, said,
"I dread the next few months, and I think that the most important thing for
me in this period is to coordinate and concentrate the efforts of all
political parties to avoid another period of lunacy." The question is being
asked more and more often: Will these political maneuvers bring chaos or
stability to Russia?
For the last eight months, one of the most popular themes in Russian
politics has been that of ensuring political stability in the country. This
was the explanation offered by the president's close circle for Boris
Yeltsin's decision not to nominate Viktor Chernomyrdin for the post of prime
minister for a third time after the Duma deputies had voted him down twice.
In order to avoid "rocking the boat" and destabilizing the political
situation, the president paid heed to the initiative of Yabloko leader
Grigory Yavlinsky and proposed Yevgeny Primakov for the chairmanship of the
Council of Ministers. Politicians, deputies, analysts, experts and
journalists all tend to assess the actions and initiatives of top state,
economic and financial leaders--the main actors on Russia's political
stage--from this viewpoint of maintaining political stability and preserving
the elements of social harmony which have been established.
Yet the perception of the cornerstones of stability and the ways of
achieving and maintaining it naturally differ greatly among the supporters
of rival political organizations, parties, movements and other associations.
One group associates political stability with ensuring that real power
remains in the hands of Boris Yeltsin. A second group associates it with
extending powers and responsibilities, or even simply with ensuring that the
government continues with Yevgeny Primakov at its head. A third links it to
the activities of the State Duma and the Federation Council. A fourth pins
its hopes on republic and regional political institutions. A fifth is
convinced that the country lacks any stabilizing elements and that internal
processes may assume a destructive, uncontrollable nature. A sixth,
meanwhile, points out that only the combined efforts of all the branches of
state power are capable of resolving the major problems facing Russia,
including that of political stability.
POLITICAL STABILITY AND THE CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL SITUATION IN RUSSIA
It seems that political stability is very closely linked to the soundness
and durability of the political system, to how deeply rooted this system is
in society and how adequate it is for society, and to its ability to react
efficiently--both offensively and defensively--to changes in the
environment. All this assumes, in particular, the preservation of the
balance of political forces and institutions which has been established; the
predictability of the actions of the authorities; the domination of
legitimate structures and a decrease in the influence of informal groups on
the authorities' decision-making process--the "transparency" of this
process; and the existence of legally defined rules for mutual relations,
certain formal frameworks, political taboos in the work of institutions,
parties and so on.
The contemporary political situation in Russia is characterized, first, by
the fact that the throne on the political Olympus is to all intents and
purposes vacant, not least because the head of state has announced that he
will not be participating as a candidate in the election campaign in 2000.
More and more often the president appears before the Russian people as a
tired old man, using words and phrases that he never used to use, such as
"Why are you torturing me?" However, at the same time it cannot be said that
the current president is being politically marginalized. What has happened
is a normal limitation of his freedom for political maneuver, because the
political rules laid down by the current constitution and legislation are
becoming binding for all the participants in the political struggle.
Second, Russian politics is characterized by the consolidation of Yevgeny
Primakov's position in state power structures. When he was appointed prime
minister, Primakov--an academic, diplomat and intelligence officer, with
contacts in the foreign office and the foreign intelligence service--had
practically no reliable footing in the country's internal political state
structures, belonged to no political groups and was very much an unknown
quantity in Russia's financial, industrial and business circles. But now the
head of government has the support of a majority of parliamentarians and a
considerable section of the republican and regional elite. Removing him from
his post would be fraught with highly unpredictable consequences for all
those involved in the political struggle.
Third, on a federal level a new independent center of political influence is
being formed: On the eve of countrywide parliamentary and presidential
elections, the members of the Federation Council are beginning to play their
own political games, having freed themselves of the president's control. In
the autumn of 1998, seventy-nine senators supported an initiative to
approach Boris Yeltsin with a suggestion that he voluntarily step down; in
March and April of this year, the upper house of the Federal Assembly twice
rejected the head of state's proposal to remove Yuri Skuratov from his post
of public prosecutor.
Fourth, society is beginning to be dominated by a mood for change, but only
change which takes place within the framework of legal procedures. The
opinion is gaining ground in society that certain changes need to be made to
the country's constitution, which would result in a strengthening of the
position of the government and parliament within state power structures. The
role of the president is paramount when the strategic development of the
country is being decided, when major changes need to be made, when there is
no agreement among the political elite on the main issues surrounding the
transformations underway, when the ruling politicians' projects do not enjoy
wide social and political support, and when it is necessary to take "manual"
control of the political and socioeconomic reform processes. Proposals on
the advisability of strengthening the role of parliament and on the movement
towards a parliamentary republic attest to the fact that a majority of the
political elite has already reached agreement on the direction of the
socioeconomic and political transformations, which now require only tactical
rather than strategic adjustment.
Fifth, the ongoing economic crisis has considerably reduced the state's
financial capabilities. However, the influence of state institutions on
business and financial structures has increased. In this regard, control of
the centers of state decisionmaking and of the decisionmaking process itself
becomes important for economic subjects. Taking into account the
"spontaneous" changes in the balance of power between the branches of state
power and the strengthening of the position of federal government and
legislative structures, the approach to the election campaign for the State
Duma is changing in order to create a powerful group of deputies in the
future lower house capable of participating in and influencing the process
of creating state legislation. In other words, the Russian political
situation is in a state of unstable equilibrium, brought about both by a
certain balance of power--or the absence of power--between the branches of
state authority and by the potentially volatile and changeable moods in
governing circles and in society. In such conditions, the cornerstone of the
political system, providing stability, is the government of the country,
whose head is appointed by the current president, according to articles 83
and 103 of the Russian constitution, with the approval of the majority of
members of the lower house of the Federal Assembly. The government is to a
certain extent independent. It has an interest in maintaining the existing
equilibrium between the various branches of state power which guarantees it
a certain freedom for maneuver when making economic decisions, in observing
democratic procedures when making state political decisions, and in
sustaining the progress of the forthcoming election campaigns at a federal
and republic-regional level. The government as an institution is traditional
for Russian state and society, whereas the president and parliament are
elements of the state machine which were introduced from outside and have
not yet managed to become an integral part of Russians' lives. It is the
government which has the apparatus and material resources required for
taking strategic decisions in times of crisis or a rapidly changing domestic
or international situation. (The president's administration is small and
auxiliary, and does not have authoritative powers; both houses of
parliament, on the other hand, constrained by procedural frameworks, are not
in a position to react quickly to problems which arise while transformations
SUPPORTERS OF POLITICAL STABILITY
In whose interests is it, then, for the current government to continue to
operate under Yevgeny Primakov's leadership?
(A) The prime minister himself. On the one hand he relies on the support of
the left-wing parliamentary majority, which is keen not to allow radical
democrats to return to important government posts. One manifestation of
political stability is the ability of the government to get its decisions
passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council, thus turning them into
legally binding documents for the whole population. Primakov's international
reputation also depends to a great extent on whether he has a cooperative
parliament behind him. In addition to this, if Yevgeny Primakov is a true
political prime minister, then he should have the economic block under his
control. According to the constitution, the president controls the political
block (the Interior, Defense and Foreign Ministries and so on). The desire
of the radical democrats, liberal democrats and social democrats to block
his strategic economic decisions and to wrench from him the economic block
in the government--which would be completely controlled by people from the
Chubais-Gaidar camp or from Grigory Yavlinsky's circle--naturally meets with
his opposition. If a proposal were made to Grigory Yavlinsky to join the
Council of Ministers, the Yabloko party in the Duma would probably follow
the resolution of the central council of the Yabloko movement taken at the
beginning of September last year, which envisages giving them twelve key
posts in the government, control of the country's main financial
institutions, the implementation of their own program, and powers,
formulated by the president and the prime minister, to manage economic
policy in its entirety. Were these terms to be adopted, Yevgeny Primakov
would become the politician responsible for the social block. In other
words, basically a "whipping boy." It is unlikely that the prime minister--a
political heavyweight--would agree to this role or to such a division of
state responsibilities. It should also be remembered that attempts by the
president and several politicians to foist reshuffles upon the prime
minister would turn Yevgeny Primakov from a politician of federal stature,
who controls the state decision-making process and whose influence and
popularity considerably exceeds that of previous prime ministers, into a
high-ranking servant, a sort of "lame duck."
(B) The heads of the "power" ministries and departments. When
dissatisfaction with the existing situation penetrates the ranks of
employees of the power structures, and when a significant section of the
staff of the armed forces and the Interior Ministry can no longer be seen as
a reliable support for the president, then the uncertainty which would
dominate political life if the current prime minister were to be removed and
an early election campaign were to begin would be fraught with highly
(C) The heads of industrial and agricultural enterprises. Right from the
start Yevgeny Primakov declared that his government's principle task was to
ensure a revival of the real sector of the economy. Noting that "spontaneous
growth is impossible for market subjects" he announced that "the state must
undertake to support and regulate domestic production."
(D) Most members of the upper house of the Federal Assembly: They have no
vested interest in a government crisis which could very well develop into an
election campaign, when on the one hand most of them have not yet selected
their patron at a federal level, and on the other hand many of them face
re-election (this year there will be elections in eighteen federation
subjects). Apart from this, there is the threat of isolation from the
international community: If Primakov's government is dismissed, a new prime
minister is unlikely to be endorsed, leading to the dissolution of the State
Duma and the beginning of an early election campaign to elect a new lower
house, with a president whose physical indisposition has more than once
forced him to leave the Kremlin for substantial periods (during his
presidency Boris Yeltsin has spent 160 days in the Central Clinical Hospital
alone). In such a scenario, nobody would be in a position to hold talks with
the international community on issues of credits and so on. It is no
coincidence that when relations between the president and the prime minister
were worsening and rumors were gaining ground that Yevgeny Primakov may be
relieved of his post as chairman of the Council of Ministers, the senators
demonstrated their willingness to pass an official Federation Council
resolution in support of the current government.
(E) The leaders of the Russian National Patriotic Union (NPSR). It should be
pointed out that Gennady Zyuganov, Gennady Seleznev and their colleagues
have already demonstrated that they only set themselves achievable goals. It
seems that the leaders of the NPSR and the CPRF accept the direction that
the socioeconomic and political development of the country is taking, and
consent to the market transformations, the preservation of democratic
procedures and integration with global economic and political structures.
(F) The mayor of Moscow and leader of the Fatherland movement Yuri Luzhkov.
Luzhkov is keen to continue political cooperation with the political
heavyweight Primakov, and considers it highly undesirable to remove the
prime minister, which could destabilize the political situation in the
country. At the same time, in view of the forthcoming parliamentary and
presidential elections, Yuri Luzhkov--who is relying on the "protest
vote"--is critical of the government's insufficient action in helping the
(G) Most of Russian society. Polls conducted by the All-Russia Center for
the Study of Public Opinion show a steady growth in confidence in Yevgeny
Primakov as prime minister over the last few months (over 60 percent of
respondents), and a negative response to the very idea of his government's
dismissal (about 60 percent).
OPPONENTS OF POLITICAL STABILITY
Opponents of the current Council of Ministers include, first, the extreme
right-wing and left-wing opposition, which lies outside the system and which
wants to see a strengthening of the state's position in the economy and
politics. Yevgeny Primakov and the political forces which support him are
also in favor of reinforcing the state's position, but their perception of
the aims of the reforms and the ways of achieving these aims differs hugely
from that of, for example, the members of Viktor Tyulkin's Russian Communist
Workers' Party or Alexander Barkashov's Russian National Unity, Viktor
Anpilov's Working Russia or Eduard Limonov's National Bolsheviks. It is
clear that the pragmatic statesmen will certainly not give free reign to
communist or nationalist repression which would claim numerous victims and
would threaten the country with isolation from international political and
economic organizations. Furthermore, this right-wing and left-wing outside
opposition does not constitute a serious political threat, as it has almost
no serious financial backing, and can call on only tens of thousands of
supporters. This opposition is incapable of controlling the federal media,
particularly the electronic media. It cannot determine the time, the place
or the way in which its activities are viewed. As a result, its influence on
Russian society is minimal and to a great extent "secondary," depending as
it does on the real players on Russia's political stage.
Second, the radical liberals, who want to form a "Pravoe Delo"--Just
Cause--coalition together with a number of financial "oligarchs." In
particular, Yegor Gaidar stated at a party conference in April 1999 that
"the procommunist Duma majority and the government have no intention of
continuing the economic and political reforms in Russia and plan to curtail
them." Meanwhile Boris Berezovsky insists that "Primakov has committed his
entire credibility to fighting the reforms. He is trying to create an empire
founded on force rather than intellect. Primakov is more dangerous than the
communists." These opponents of the government control a large swathe of the
media, including the electronic media. Under the banner of "the struggle
against the threat of a return to totalitarianism" they hope to mobilize
their electorate--which is to some extent demoralized and disillusioned with
its leaders--and they are prepared to assume the role of independent
political players capable of causing commotion and controlling the situation.
Third, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's liberal democrats. One of the LDPR leaders in
the Duma, Aleksei Mitrofanov, believes that the president "should first of
all dissolve parliament, where the communist's electoral base is," and then
dismiss Yevgeny Primakov himself, because he has created the most unstable
situation in the country for several years. The willingness of LDPR to enter
into conflict with the government is dictated by the fact that scandals,
dirty tricks and the protest vote--which both Aleksandr Lebed and Yuri
Luzhkov will also be chasing--will be major factors in the forthcoming
Fourth, Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko movement. The formation of a left-wing
majority in the State Duma sharply reduced the influence of the Yabloko
parliamentary party. Previously the forty Yabloko deputies frequently
determined the outcome of the voting on various bills. Apart from this,
Yevgeny Primakov has absolutely no desire to hand over the government's
economic block to Yavlinsky, to the understandable annoyance of the Yabloko
leader, who points to the lack of any real improvement in the country's
economic situation in the months since the current cabinet has been in office.
Fifth, the president himself and his entourage. By accepting that Yevgeny
Primakov is irremovable, the Kremlin would lose its last lever of influence
on the government, and become a sort of "Queen of England"--ruling but not
governing. Apart from this, the president, his family and close circle
clearly fear a strengthening of the prime minister's position. They take a
dim view of the very idea of a "power party" forming around Yevgeny
Primakov. At the same time the government is the only federal institution
which is loyal to the president during his periodic clashes with the Federal
Assembly. This is why assurances can sometimes be heard from the president's
administration that Boris Yeltsin considers Yevgeny Primakov his "strategic
All this points to the conclusion that the predominant trend in political
development in Russia is more closely linked with stability than with chaos.
The political, economic and manpower resources of those who want to preserve
the current socioeconomic and political situation are greater than the
resources of those who wish to demolish it. This means that we can view the
future with optimism.