This Date's Issues: 3290 •
Johnson's Russia List
18 May 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: Russia Will Keep Its Gunpowder Dry, Duma Speaker Says.
2. Reuters: Russian Golden Reformist Calls for New Liberal Era.
3. AP: Stepashin Seeks Lawmakers' Support.
4. Reuters: Excerpts from Russian acting PM's speech.
5. Reuters: Main points of Russia's acting PM economic
6. Thad McArthur: JRL 3285, 3286 - DJ On U.S. Responsibility.
7. STRATFOR: China, Russia, and the Politics of Manic-Depression.
8. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: Ugly Duma Highlighted In No Vote.
9. Stephen D. Shenfield: TSAR BORIS AND HIS FIVE PRIME MINISTERS.
10.Moscow Times: Matt Bivens, Crazy Like a Fox. (A look at Yeltsin via
Russia Will Keep Its Gunpowder Dry, Duma Speaker Says.
MOSCOW, May 17 (Itar-Tass) - Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said on Monday
that the period of confrontation in Europe is not over yet and that Russia
should keep its gunpowder dry.
"We thought at first that the era of wars in Europe was over, but now we
see that we should keep our gunpowder dry," Seleznyov said at a meeting
with deputy chairman of the House of Representatives of the Belgian
parliament, Dirk van der Malen, the Duma press service said.
Seleznyov stated Russia's position on the war in Yugoslavia and expressed
his attitude towards NATO's actions.
He noted that the role of the U.N. Security Council and the OSCE has
decreased and said that some Duma members suggest that Russia stop making
contributions to the United Nations.
He warned that Russia will not support the Charter of Europe for the 21st
century if its singing in Istanbul in September of this year is turned,
under U.S. pressure, into the signing of some resolution.
Van der Malen told Seleznyov about a resolution adopted by the Belgian
parliament, which appeals to Russia to step up its diplomatic efforts to
settle the Kosovo conflict and to NATO to solve this problem as soon as
Russian Golden Reformist Calls for New Liberal Era
MOSCOW, May 17 (Reuters) - Liberal deputy Boris Nemtsov, once dubbed the
golden boy of Russian reform, urged acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin
on Monday to usher in a new era of liberalism and appoint a young,
Nemtsov, inspired by the failure of an impeachment vote against President
Boris Yeltsin in the Communist-dominated State Duma lower house of
parliament at the weekend, said he was certain the Duma would confirm
Stepashin as prime minister.
"I think that the parliamentarians will vote for Stepashin in the first
vote because next time they might have to vote someone even more
distasteful," Nemtsov, who heads Young Russia party, told a news conference.
"But we believe that it is impossible to improve the country without a
change in the make-up of the cabinet, without a peaceful, revolution of
Nemtsov, one of several potential candidates to take over as Russia's new
economic tsar, declined to say whether he himself wanted a position in the
He said the Communist-dominated Duma would not reject Stepashin, a longtime
ally of Yeltsin, because it was more concerned with electioneering ahead of
this year's parliamentary poll.
If the Duma rejects Yeltsin's nominee three times, he must dissolve the
Duma and call a general election within three months.
Nemtsov said deputies would not want to be disbanded and lose the right to
use their Duma telephones, fax machines and "in some cases even their
helicopters" without charge ahead of the election.
"I can say Stepashin will be approved...now the most important thing is how
will the new cabinet look," he said.
Nemtsov, who had been one of two first deputy prime ministers until a
financial crisis in August, said Stepashin should axe the conservatives
left over from the government of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov
sacked last week.
Russia needs fresh credits from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and
its offer made to Primakov's government is now up in the air. The IMF
offered new credits provided the Duma passed a series of reform laws,
including of the tax system.
Nemtsov, 39, called for the sacking of pro-Communist Gennady Kulik, deputy
prime minister in Primakov's cabinet.
He said Stepashin should employ Western-friendly ministers such as Boris
Fyodorov, who criticised the outgoing government for failing to do anything
to revive the economy.
Nemtsov also said that the head of Duma's budget committee, Alexander
Zhukov, who has a reputation of moderate reformist, should also be
considered as a candidate for economic supremo.
"A new government has a unique window of opportunity," Nemtsov said. "There
are good conditions here for some dynamic and successful work."
Stepashin Seeks Lawmakers' Support
May 17, 1999
By ANNA DOLGOV
MOSCOW (AP) -- Chastened after failing to impeach Boris Yeltsin, Russian
lawmakers met with his nominee for premier on Monday and hinted that he may
be approved -- a far cry from the confrontational furor that raged in
parliament last week.
Prime minister-designate Sergei Stepashin, nominated after Yeltsin sacked
Premier Yevgeny Primakov last week, held talks with centrist deputies of
the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, to ask for their support.
The chamber was to vote Wednesday.
If the Duma rejects Yeltsin's nominee for prime minister three times, he
may dissolve the chamber and call parliamentary elections.
A successful impeachment vote would have given the Duma immunity from being
disbanded, and Communists who dominate the house might have been tempted to
defy the president further by turning down his choice for premier.
But the opposition failed to win an impeachment vote Saturday, and even
though Communists are still furious at Yeltsin, they will probably try not
to antagonize him in order to keep their jobs.
The three largest groups in the Duma, including the Communists, appeared
ready to accept Stepashin's appointment and refrained from harsh comments
about him Monday. The restraint was unusual because Primakov was popular
with the Duma, and Communists condemned Yeltsin for firing him.
Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the Duma, said he thinks
Stepashin will be approved on the first vote.
``I have a sense that Stepashin fits,'' he was quoted as saying by the
Interfax news agency.
And Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said on Russian television Sunday
night that he does not exclude the possibility that Stepashin could be
Stepashin is seen as a politically neutral candidate, so the Duma's
Communist majority can support him without losing face. The argument that
Russia urgently needs a Cabinet to tackle its economic problems also offers
them a way to save face.
However, any hint that Stepashin would bring economic liberals to key
Cabinet posts could upset that balance, antagonizing hard-line lawmakers.
He has refused to comment publicly on the composition of his Cabinet,
saying he will tackle the issue after he is approved.
Stepashin also Monday addressed the upper chamber of parliament, the
Federation Council, promising a more aggressive policy to rescue the ailing
``The course toward economic and political stability will be continued and
more than just continued,'' Stepashin said. ``Our task is to ... attack.''
Stepashin, who had been in charge of the nation's police, also promised to
crack down on corruption.
The chamber does not vote on nominees for prime minister, but it has
considerable political influence.
Several members of the Federation Council, which is composed of regional
leaders, said they thought Stepashin would be approved.
``There is no motive for opposing him. (Stepashin) is not the worst
option,'' said Alexander Lebed, a Siberian governor, according to Interfax.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, also a member of the upper chamber, praised
Stepashin and warned of ``dismal prospects'' for Russia if a new premier is
Excerpts from Russian acting PM's speech
MOSCOW, May 17 (Reuters) - The following are excerpts from acting Prime
Minister Sergei Stepashin's speech to Russia's Federation Council, the upper
house of parliament:
ON THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND- ``All obligations (to the IMF),
undertaken by the previous government, will be fulfilled.''
``Today early in the morning we had a special session of the government's
presidium, where the finance minister was given final recommendations for the
talks. There are two conditions: the passage of a package of laws by the Duma
and confirmation of the government. They will only talk with a legitimate
ON YUGOSLAVIA- ``The position of the government has not changed. Talks on
Yugoslavia can only continue if there is an end to military activity.''
ON THE NEW GOVERNMENT'S AIMS- ``The (government) will work for the continued
economic and political stability of the country.''
``The next three months are decisive -- the country will face an election
campaign and even before that starts, we have to create economic order. On
this point I count on the deputies' approval of the laws already put before
them. The laws are essential for financial stability in the country.''
``I can see that the standard of living is continuing to fall, foreign
investors are leaving our markets, many domestic enterprises cannot
function...We have to work clearly, effectively and urgently, without
compromise and with no half measures, so as not to let things continue in
ON TAXES- ``The non-payment of taxes is not just a criminal offence but a
crime against the country.''
ON CRIME- ``Crime and corruption reduce to nothing our most noble
aspirations. The government's main task is to bring the so-called shadow
sector back onto a civilised track.''
ON THE CABINET- ``It seems to me a bit too early to say who will be in the
cabinet. Of course, I have a list and some of the names are from the earlier
ON RUSSIA- ``We should do what we can so those abroad will not only see
Russia's political might but our economic might''
Main points of Russia's acting PM economic programme
MOSCOW, May 17 (Reuters) - Russia's Acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin on
Monday outlined the main points of his economic programme in a speech to the
Federation Council, the upper house of parliament.
Following are the main planks of his economic platform:
* Fight against capital flight, corruption and crime
* Increase budget revenues through mobilising internal resources
* Crack down on tax evasion
* Fulfil promises to the International Monetary Fund given by the previous
government, including pushing a number of laws, required by the Fund, through
the State Duma (lower house of parliament)
* Revive the banking system
* Implement a payment schedule worked out by the previous government for
clearing wage and pension arrears
* Support domestic industry
* Devote more attention to regions, including setting up an economic council
under the government which would comprise regional representatives
* Give regions equal conditions for economic development
* Provide investment incentives
* Legalise the shadow economy
From: Thad McArthur <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: JRL 3285, 3286 - DJ On U.S. Responsibility
Date: Mon, 17 May 1999
While I would agree that Western, and especially U.S., policy has been
wrong-headed during the Yeltsin era - too focused on Yeltsin, too worried
about Communists in the closet, too worried about Potemkin fascists on the
right - I nevertheless think you're dramatically overstating its influence
in the economic sphere, thereby giving the Russians a cheap and easy excuse
for what is, at the end of the day, a mess of their own making.
The economic crisis is indeed man-made, but by 1991 it was certainly
inevitable. The biggest mistake Sachs, Aslund and the policy makers in the
West made was to underestimate the rot at the heart of the Soviet economy
and in Soviet society, and to overstate our ability to remake both in our
own image. Even if the reforms had been adopted (most weren't) and
perfectly executed (the few adopted were botched), they would not have
prevented the serious economic dislocations to follow, nor would have any
other model, no matter how enlightened. An interesting bit of news from
Deutsche Welle illustrates: The German Economics Ministry announced this
month that the laender of the former GDR only this year achieved their
pre-unification levels of GDP. This despite starting from an
economic/industrial base far better suited to post-communist realities than
Russia's, and including advantages Russia could only dream of, such as: 1)
the one-for-one exchange for Ost-mark for D-mark, giving them overnight one
of the world's soundest currencies as well as a real capital transfer of
billions of DM; 2) additional massive infusions of financial assistance
from the federal budget; 3) billions of DM in private direct investment; 4)
a seamless transition to the FRG's democratic, transparent and relatively
corruption-free political and legal institutions, including a sound banking
and commercial code, modern property law, contract law, bankruptcy law,
and intellectual property laws, und so weiter. To think for a moment that
Russia, no matter who occupied the Kremlin, could make a smooth transition
from the Soviet economy to any other model, whether market-based or
dirigiste, without serious economic dislocation is purest fantasy.
As for the IMF debt burden being borne by the Russian taxpayer, I'll be
willing to wager that, in the end, it will be the Western taxpayers who
pick of the tab for the IMF's largesse.
And as for your lamenting the loss of Primakov's New Deal-like "economic
plan" - was there one? As far as I could ascertain, Primakov's economic
plan consisted of: 1) if not placating the IMF, then at least keeping them
interested; and 2) look the other way while Maslyukov steals everything
that isn't nailed down.
Global Intelligence Update
Weekly Analysis May 17, 1999
China, Russia, and the Politics of Manic-Depression
Over the past few weeks, Russia and China have engaged in
intense, manic-depressive foreign policy, shifting between sullen
quiet, to near war-frenzy, to friendly cooperation. Before one
prescribes medications, this behavior should be seen as the
natural, terminal maneuvers of powers that are trying to get the
West's attention and are not quite sure what to do with that
attention once they get it. It is not that the behavior is not
ominous. It represents the process of great powers going into
opposition to a super-power. But the behavior is the symptom,
not the problem itself. The problem is that the structure of the
international system dictates an anti-American Russo-Chinese
alliance, and very little can stop that.
It has been fascinating over the past two weeks to observe the
gyrations of China and Russia, as they carry out their terminal
maneuvers on the way to an anti-American, anti-Western
alliance. Right after the bombing of Kosovo began Russia went
ballistic, in its more extreme moments even threatening the
United States with nuclear war. China remained sullen but
relatively quiet. Then Russia turned mellow, trying to work with
the West while China went ballistic over the bombing of the
Embassy and a host of other issues. It is amazing the extremes
at which both countries are operating their foreign policies at the
The intense mood swings are, of course, calculated and have
rational goals. Russia and China individually are trying to
achieve three things. First, they want to get the attention and
concern of the United States and the major powers linked to the
United States, like Germany and Japan. Second, they want to
generate a substantial level of concern within the United States
concerning the direction of relations with each of them. Russia
and China both hope to increase their leverage within the
relationship and ideally extract political and, more important,
financial concessions from a concerned United States that is
hoping to appease them and avoid a new Cold War. Finally,
they hope to create serious fear among America's allies, like
Japan and Germany, concerning trends in U.S. foreign policy, in
the hope of being able to split the American alliance, further
weakening the United States.
Thus, periodically, each generates a major confrontation with the
United States in which it appears that a catastrophic collision is
about to take place. They then allow themselves to be placated
by the United States and its allies, extracting economic
concessions in return for politico-military quiescence. The trick
for each is to recreate the image of the Cold War as a reminder
of the bad old days. The Russian announcement that the Black
Sea Fleet would sortie, and mobs of Chinese hurling stones at
the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, all served to remind everyone how
bad things could get. That set the stage for the next phase,
which was bargaining on the price for not letting things get that
We do not believe that Russia and China are cooperating on
this. Quite the contrary. In a certain sense, they are now
competitors for the West's limited attentions. Particularly in
Washington, where the ability to handle multiple foreign policy
issues is at a historical low point, getting priority treatment
requires threats of nuclear war and riots in front of embassies.
The similarity in Russia's and China's behavior has much more
to do with the similarity of their strategic and economic positions
relative to the United States than it does to do with conspiracy.
Both need the same thing from the United States and the West:
financial help and collaboration. Neither will get as much as they
want and need, based strictly on economic considerations. Each
needs to find levers to extract more. Thus, in an odd sense, they
are competitors, posturing intensely to try to get attention and
Consider Russia's maneuvering. Immediately after the beginning
of the Serbian war, it appeared that Primakov's Russia was
about to launch a new Cold War. Yeltsin brilliantly allowed
Primakov to position Russia in complete and hostile opposition
to NATO. He then brought Chernomyrdin out of retirement.
Chernomyrdin, an old stalwart of the reform days, appeared to
be a dinosaur out of the past. Chernomyrdin delivered two
messages. The first was that there was still a chance at reform in
Russia. The second was that Russia would help NATO in
Kosovo in return for financial aid. Suddenly, $4.5 billion was
shaken loose; not enough to bring Milosevic to the peace table,
but enough to cause Yeltsin to dump Primakov and appoint a
new Prime Minister of ambiguous ideology. Outmaneuvering the
communists in the Duma by getting Zhironovsky to double cross
them (the price for that is not yet clear), Yeltsin is now in a
position to bargain with the West. Indeed, Michael Camdessus,
head of the IMF, said on Sunday that the IMF was now ready
to work with Russia on additional funding.
Of course, Camdessus also said that Russia would have to
institute new reforms in order to get that money. The new Prime
Minister said on Sunday "Everything is simple here. Once the
Duma passes legislation and endorses the new government,
loans will start coming." Stepashin, of course, is still euphoric at
the prospect of becoming Prime Minister, and he is not thinking
as clearly as he should. Obviously, the Duma must pass new
legislation in order to get the IMF to grant new loans. But that
legislation will include massive austerity in an already
impoverished Russia, as well as a battle for taxes with oligarchs
busy shipping money to the West. If it were really that easy, it
would have been done months ago.
This is the problem with all of this maneuvering. It is pointless.
No matter how much money the West provides, Russia cannot
recover from its problems because those problems are deeply
rooted structural and cultural defects in the Russian system that
make it impossible for it to, if you will, metabolize money
effectively. Put differently, if it doesn't turn into capital, it
doesn't become productive. Money sent to Russia remains
money to be spent on imported luxuries, used to bribe
opposition politicians, or stolen. It does not create economic
growth. Thus, the maneuvering gets the West's attention
followed by ineffective assistance, inertia, and the return to the
China is a similar case, albeit far from as hopeless economically.
Nevertheless, after a series of entirely unsatisfactory bilateral
meetings at several levels, tremendous criticism from the United
States on human rights, the investigation of Chinese financial aid
to Bill Clinton, the espionage scandal and a general decline in
relations, the Chinese saw the bombing of their embassy as a
marvelous opportunity to redefine their relations with the United
States. Taking a page from Moscow's book, they recreated the
world prior to the rise of Deng Xiaping, complete with howling
mobs and resolutions condemning American hegemonism. The
bombing of the Embassy, had it happened in 1991 in Baghdad,
would have been managed with a harsh protest and an apology.
In 1999, it was turned into opera by a China hoping to make its
That got the U.S.'s attention but, as with Russia, it was not clear
what the Chinese wanted that the U.S. and the West could give
them. Everyone rushed forward to see what could be done
about World Trade Organization membership for China.
However, given the structural dynamics of 1999 as opposed to
1995 and given China's unofficial economic crisis, it was not
clear what WTO membership would do for China. It was also
unclear what else could be rationally offered. Massive new
investments on the order of the earlier years of the decade are
hardly likely when the U.S. economy is so attractive and
investors in China are merely hoping to break even at some
Nevertheless, China's Cold War posturing is every bit as
impressive as was Russia's. For example, the May 13 South
China Morning Post reported that China is abandoning the low-
key foreign policy established by Deng Xiaoping and moving
toward a more aggressive approach. The shift in policy,
unnamed sources said in the report, was made following the
NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. It was
partially in response to student demonstrations against the U.S.
Embassy in China. The source said, "In internal talks, Politburo
members expressed fears that the students would next stage
protests against a 'weak central Government' unless Beijing
counters threats to national security." The idea that China would
take a knee-jerk decision in reaction to a group of students
throwing rocks at a foreign embassy and totally reverse a foreign
policy that has stood for ten years is unlikely. Instead, China is
using the opportunity presented by the anti-American
demonstrations to declare to the world that the U.S. and NATO
are forcing China into a new role, despite the fact that it has
already been pursuing this new policy for some time.
In response to China's overstated warnings of being forced by
its own citizens into a more aggressive stance, the U.S. is
planning to send in a former admiral as the new ambassador to
China. The choice of a military man to take the position reflects
the administration's view of the potential Chinese threat. More
importantly, the prospective nominee for ambassador to China is
Admiral Joseph Prueher, commander of the U.S. Pacific Force
from 1996 to March 1999. While Prueher was instrumental in
expanding Chinese-U.S. military cooperation and exchanges, he
was also in charge in 1996 when the U.S. sent carriers into the
Taiwan Strait to demonstrate U.S. resolve vis-…-vis Chinese
interference in Taiwan's elections. This makes Prueher a prime
candidate in dealing with China who is unlikely to be strenuously
opposed by the Republican-dominated Congress.
The real danger here is that during these periodic, ritual chest-
thumping episodes, the situation might genuinely get out of hand.
Yeltsin skillfully reigned in the anti-Western forces he helped
unleash. The old fox never ceases to amaze us. However, he
will go to the well one time too many, and unleash forces that
even he can't control. The same is true in China. The
leadership can whip up anti-American frenzy on demand. It is
not clear that they will always be able to control it. In the end, it
won't matter. The tendency toward anti-Americanism and
therefore to some form of alliance is, we believe, irreversible.
The path toward that end, however, is twisted and quite noisy.
The noise, whether from Moscow or Beijing, is not the real
issue. There is lightning behind the thunder.
May 18, 1999
EDITORIAL: Ugly Duma Highlighted In No Vote
Impeachment has fallen through and it's just as well. Boris Yeltsin may
deserve to be booted out of office over the war in Chechnya, and perhaps also
over the bloody events of October 1993. But impeaching him would not have led
to his removal; it would have given him the opening to gleefully launch
another crisis, and to shore up his own powers in the process.
It was a useful exercise, however, in that it once again exposed the various
factions of the State Duma to the harsh light of public scrutiny. Most of the
factions look ugly indeed upon this sort of closer inspection.
Yabloko: They more or less did what they said they would. They voted to
impeach Yeltsin over the war in Chechnya - in fact it is often forgotten it
was Yabloko who first called for such an impeachment years ago, at the height
of the war. Back then the Communists couldn't be bothered - they were pro-war
if it meant putting Chechnya in its place, and only became anti-war when it
was politically expedient. Yabloko voted intelligently and morally. This
party has ripened over the years and deserves the respect of voters.
LDPR: The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has the internal discipline of a
merry band of careerists, and when the chips are down, the Kremlin can count
on Vladimir Zhirinovsky as surely as it could on even Anatoly Chubais.
Kommersant Vlast newsweekly has reported speculation that Yeltsin's daughter
Tatyana Dyachenko promised Zhirinovsky control of the national oil pipeline
system for his opposition to impeachment. If it wasn't that, perhaps it was
Our Home Is Russia: This party seems to be going nowhere, and will probably
be replaced by Yury Luzhkov's Otechestvo, or Fatherland, in the December
elections. The exception is faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, who has breathed
a bit of new life into the half-dead Our Home carcass. Ryzhkov was right on
target when he noted that the people elected Yeltsin in 1996 knowing full
well he had shelled the White House and carpet-bombed Grozny - making the
entire idea of parliament removing Yeltsin over these events a bit
The Communist Party: What can one say about a party that defiantly associates
itself with Soviet Communism - and then accuses someone else of "genocide"
against the Russian people? Communists like Gennady Zyuganov tacitly accepted
the collapse of the Soviet Union at the time; now suddenly that was Yeltsin's
fault? The party's ardent embrace of the most absurd, over-the-top
allegations once again discredits it as a constructive political force.
Date: Mon, 17 May 1999
From: Stephen Shenfield <Stephen_Shenfield@Brown.edu>
Subject: A story for JRL
TSAR BORIS AND HIS FIVE PRIME MINISTERS
Stephen D. Shenfield
Editorial note. Legend has it that on the wastelands of Northern Eurasia
there once flourished a great empire called Rus. This story comes from
recently discovered fragments of an old chronicle devoted to the life and
times of the last Russian Tsar, Boris Yeltsin.
... After his coronation, Tsar Boris disappeared from public view. His
tank-climbing struggle against the evil Kommunov dynasty and the Great Khan
Mikhail Gorbachev had exhausted him, and he needed a long rest. When at
last he returned to the Kremlin, he was puzzled to find on his desk a pile
of bulky documents bearing such titles as '400 days,' '500 days,' '600
"What are these, Gennadii?" he asked his loyal aide Burbulis. "Let's get
down to work! Where do I sign?"
"You have to choose among them, Sire. They are Economic Reform Plans sent
in by various groups of economists."
"Indeed! The Tsar must have a prime minister to handle such matters."
"Ah, Sire, I have just the man in mind!"
And so Tsar Boris received Yegor Gaidar. He looked upon him with favor,
for he knew he was the son of the great story-writer whose tales he had
heard as a child. Furthermore, Yegor spoke in such simple terms that the
Tsar had no trouble understanding him. Nor had Yegor ever sworn fealty to
Boris' rival, the Khan Mikhail.
"Yes, a dynamic and vigorous young reformer!" exclaimed the Tsar. "He will
wipe away every trace and stain left by the Kommunovs! And a scion of such
a talented family!"
There was much that Tsar Boris did not understand, and he knew it, for by
no means was he a vain man. But he took pride in his understanding of men.
When it came to judging men, his intuition would surely never fail him!
Gaidar warned the Tsar that for the first few months of the economic reform
the people's standard of living would decline. That could not be avoided.
But before long the economy would stabilize and grow again, and prosperity
would come to the land of Rus.
Months passed, a year passed, yet the promised upturn was nowhere to be
seen. Prices rose and rose, output fell and fell. Tsar Boris began to
feel irritation at Gaidar's endless excuses and promises. And then the
trusty general and war hero Rutskoi (later he revealed himself as a base
traitor) began to whisper doubts in the Tsar's ear.
"Whisper more loudly, Rutskoi! I'm getting a bit deaf, you know."
"I said that Gaidar is still young. He has no experience of life, but only
of books. Why, he is a little boy in pink pants! He has no authority, he
will achieve nothing in Rus! The economy needs the firm hand of a mature
and experienced manager!"
The Tsar pondered Rutskoi's words, and it seemed to him that there was
truth in them.
Some time later, as he was sweating with his boon-companions in the
bath-house, Tsar Boris suddenly burst out:
"I've had enough of that Gaidar! It's time for a new prime minister!
A mature and experienced manager with a firm hand!"
And so the second prime minister of Tsar Boris was appointed -- Viktor
Chernomyrdin, also known as the Gasman, a mature and experienced manager
with a firm hand. At least that was what the Tsar's counsellors told him.
It was hard for the Tsar to tell, for like most people he could hardly make
out the incoherent mumbling of his new prime minister.
At this time there arose in the mountainous borderland of Chechnya a
rebellious prince named Jokhar Dudayev. One evening, as Tsar Boris was
drinking vodka with his close Guard and Tennis Partner Korzhakov (later he
revealed himself as a base traitor), he mused aloud:
"Why shouldn't we invite Prince Jokhar to join us here and split a bottle
three ways, as is the custom in Rus? Better Jokhar reigning in Chechnya
than his crafty rival, Prince Ruslan Khasbulatov! And did the prince not
serve the empire loyally in the past, when we fought the savage Afghan
tribes? Fain would I meet with him, man to man, and resolve the quarrel!"
"Sire," replied Korzhakov, "do you not know what Prince Jokhar said about
you last week?" And he leant very close to the Tsar's ear, for the Tsar was
a bit deaf, and whispered. And the Tsar let slip his glass, and his face
turned deathly white.
"That," he finally managed to say, "is not a man whom the Tsar can meet."
And so the Tsar sent his soldiers to the Chechen land, and they laid it
waste by fire and sword.
... Meanwhile the standard of living declined further, and Tsar Boris
worried that the people might fall prey to discontent. Chernomyrdin said
he saw signs of the economy levelling out and beginning to grow again, but
the signs were so small that nobody else could detect them. The Tsar began
to feel irritated at his prime minister's mumbling. And his counsellors
offered their suggestions:
"This old fuddy-duddy will never achieve anything! He is stuck in the old
ways and cannot change. What the country needs is a dynamic young reformer!"
One day, in the middle of a game of tennis, the Tsar suddenly had a
"This old fuddy-duddy Chernomyrdin will never achieve anything!" he
exclaimed. "He is stuck in the old ways and cannot change. What the
country needs is a dynamic young reformer!"
The third prime minister of Tsar Boris was Kirienko, a dynamic young
reformer from the province of Lower New Town. For some months, all hopes
rested on him. But the economy continued its relentless decline.
In his more sober moments, the Tsar started to ask himself whether he had
made the right decision. His counsellors fuelled his doubts. "The trouble
is," they confided, "that these young kids have too little experience.
They mean well, but they have no authority. How can they achieve anything?
What the Russian economy needs is a firm hand, the hand of an experienced
and mature man -- a man like Chernomyrdin!"
Suddenly Tsar Boris had had enough. At a meeting with Kirienko and his
team, he stood, banged his fist on the table, and exclaimed:
"The trouble with you young kids is that you have too little experience. I
know you mean well, but you have no authority. How can you achieve
anything? What the Russian economy needs is a firm hand, the hand of an
experienced and mature man -- a man like Chernomyrdin!"
But when the Tsar announced his new decision to his boyars assembled in
council, he heard rumbles of displeasure. A senior boyar arose from his
seat and spoke:
"Don't you remember, Sire, that you have already had Chernomyrdin as your
prime minister? And don't you remember that you dismissed him, for he had
achieved nothing? Do you really insist on having him return? Surely there
are other worthy men in the Land of Rus!"
Tsar Boris paused and thought deeply. He did indeed vaguely recall that
Chernomyrdin had already been prime minister and had achieved nothing. It
seemed to him that there was truth in the words of the boyar.
"Very well," he at last replied, "and
Date: Mon, 17 May 1999
From: Matt Bivens <email@example.com>
i thought you might be interested in this for djl, it's a look at
yeltsin via his memoirs.
May 15, 1999
Crazy Like a Fox
By Matt Bivens
In November 1997, President Boris Yeltsin visited Beijing, where he was
met warmly by Deng Xiaopeng. In a show of hospitality, Deng asked Yeltsin
whether he would like to stay a bit longer as China's guest. According to
Kommersant Vlast, Yeltsin declined on grounds that he was running out of
food. "I only have two days of food left," Yeltsin explained.
On that same trip, Yeltsin and Deng strolled through a garden. When
journalists began to take their pictures, Yeltsin called out to them, "Why
are you taking pictures of me? You'd be better off taking pictures of the
With a wave of his arm he indicated ... the setting sun.
Boris Yeltsin is a bit nuts. That's obvious to anyone who has spent a
little time watching him. He has claimed to tend a potato garden in the
Kremlin, where each fall he plants nine bags of seed potato, then each
spring harvests ... nine bags of seed potato. In public appearances, he has
on occasion entertained himself and onlookers by drumming on the heads of
his aides with wooden spoons and singing the folksong "Kalinka" loudly and
out of tune. Yeltsin has been known to order other aides thrown off of
river boats, then fished back out and forced to drink a shot of vodka.
Journalists delight in the public Yeltsin's gaffes and oddities. When
Yeltsin seizes a conductor's baton and drunkenly begins to conduct an
orchestra, or yawns and fires the government, or visits Sweden and confuses
it with Finland, it's not only funny, it's alarming - because if the
leader of Russia is losing it mentally, who's watching the nuclear
But far more illuminating than the silly anecdotes and drunkenness are
Yeltsin's own memoirs, "The Struggle for Russia" in particular. This book
has been in print for five years now, but it is relevant today as never
before. Even a casual reader will find much alarming. Yeltsin the memoirist
is a paranoid. He looks upon any frustration of his will or his climb to
power a s an outrage. He believes democracy to be himself. And he sees a
threat lurking in the white telephone on his desk.
Seven years ago, Yeltsin and his acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar
unleashed hyperinflation. Overnight, the Russian people were wiped out: At
the beginning of Yeltsin's reign 10,000 rubles would have bought a car;
within months 10,000 rubles might have bought a good pair of shoes, and the
suicide rate among the elderly had tripled.
Nevertheless, when the disaffected gathered outside the Channel 1
television station in June 1992, Yeltsin decided their anger was staged and
their placards made by the KGB.
"This was not some spontaneous explosion of outrage but a
well-orchestrated attempt to put pressure on the government. They were
trying to probe the 'populist Yeltsin's' main sore point - dependency on
people's moods, on the public's sympathy," Yeltsin wrote. "I sensed that
there were people somewhere trying to frighten me. I sensed that these
pseudopopular uprisings were a crude hoax. I sensed the hand of my old
friends, the KGB."
The people weren't protesting because of hyperinflation; they were
protesting as part of "a crude hoax" perpetrated by "the KGB." Never mind
that it was now Yeltsin's KGB, and if it truly was running rogue he could
only blame his own refusal to reform it.
Throughout his memoirs, Yeltsin continually refers to a vague "they" who
are bent on destroying him. Even when friends called to ask after his
health (which even then was often bad), Yeltsin sees the hand of conspiracy:
"In the summer of 1993, a rumor circulated that I was ill, suffering from
some mythical attack. Once again people telephoned me and everyone was
worried. This type of situation - a real or imagined threat to my life -
keeps cropping up again and again and continues to hound me. It's as if
they want to frighten me. Test my character. Keep me cocked."
The protesters were KGB puppets. The well-wishers were KGB puppets. But
Yeltsin had to move bravely forward. An ugly parliament and a frightened
populace were crying out in fear as inflation raged. Yeltsin stood firmly
by Gaidar and his Cabinet.
"The opposition's gloating over the Gaidar government's unfulfilled
promises [to stop inflation] threatened to escalate at the Congress into
the usual harassment campaign, which would destabilize the country and
undermine the authority of our ideas," Yeltsin somehwat airily explained.
"Since I had no intention of parting with my government, I began to
approach the Sixth Congress with the attitude that I had to give it a good
Not immediately, of course. First he lobbied, asking for patience and for
a free hand for Gaidar. "I poured [in] an enormous amount of effort ... and
all for only one purpose: to persuade the deputies to take my candidate. I
begged, I pleaded ..."
Parliament refused, kicking out Gaidar and subsequently accepting Viktor
Chernomyrdin in his place. For Yeltsin, this was a deep personal affront.
He left the parliament and returned to his dacha in "a complete trance ...
took one look at my wife's and children's eyes," locked himself in the
banya, lay down and slipped into a depression. "Alexander Korzhakov was the
one to drag me out of this pit. Somehow, he managed to open the door to
the banya, and persuaded me to come back into the house." By Korzhakov's
account, this was one of several occasions when Yeltsin has tried to kill
himself during his time in office.
Where it gets really disturbing is when Yeltsin calmly reflects upon this
political setback. Again there is a mix of paranoia and a petulant
touchiness. It would be just a little pathetically sad, if only it hadn't
culminated so grandly tragic - in the deaths of innocent dozens and the
tank shelling of the White House.
Yeltsin describes his "Achilles' heel" as a fear of being criticized by a
group - a phobia so vivid that he characterizes verbal criticism as if it
were a physical attack:
"I cannot stand public beatings when everyone gangs up on you and pounds
you from every side. It's not so important what the fight is about. Even as
a person ascends the speaker's platform, I can intuitively sense in his
step a savage desire to strike a painful blow, an attempt to whip himself
up, a purely negative, terrible impulse to hit."
Deputies were critiquing economic policies that were obviously destructive
and broadly disliked across the nation. But as Yeltsin puts it, "It's not
so important what the fight is about." For Yeltsin, what's important is
that someone is criticizing me, someone is challenging me.
"When people gang up on one person, punching and kicking in a
parliamentary debate, and you can't do anything about it ... [his
In a particularly troubling aside, Yeltsin claims darkly that it was not
"accidental" that parliament uncovered this fear of his - the fear of group
criticism - and started booing Gaidar and hyperinflation:
"This was probably the first time in five years, since my expulsion from
the politburo in 1987, that something like this had happened to me. I don't
think that everything was accidental at that Congress, that everything was
a coincidence, that my Achilles' heel could have been so carefully
Yeltsin peers deeper into himself to conclude that, "With hindsight I saw
that my feeling about this parliamentary drubbing was a repeat of the
psychological blow I suffered ... [in 1987 when Mikhail Gorbachev ejected
Yeltsin from the politburo.] Then, at Gorbachev's command, I was brought
right from my hospital bed and stomped on for several hours in the best
So to protest against Yeltsin on the street is to be a KGB stooge, and to
criticize him in parliament is to punch him, kick him, stomp on him, and so
on. Is it any wonder that he provokes conflict and confrontation at every
"Am I a strong or a weak person?" Yeltsin abruptly asks the reader, 200
pages into his book. He's not asking; he's telling: "In emergency
situations I'm strong. In ordinary situations, I'm sometimes too passive.
... I can fly off the handle in a stupid way, like a child. That is
probably a weakness. Other people say my weakness is that I create
obstacles so that I am forced to make a terrible effort to overcome them
heroically later. That's not true. The obstacles find me on their own."
Sure they do. Consider Yeltsin's bizarrely circular explanation of the
events of September and October 1993:
"Outwardly, this seemed like a triumph of democracy. Now, like Italy, we
had a protracted government crisis, attempts by the parliament to replace
the prime minister ... We were 'just like everybody else' - everything was
"[B]ut that was not to be, and it was impossible to end this story
peacefully. The White House was stormed. That meant we weren't 'just like
everybody else.' That meant this wasn't just an ordinary parliamentary
struggle - a fight for this or that law, this or that government, this or
that policy. No, this was a fight against me ..."
Hmm. It looked like a government crisis. But Yeltsin's troops stormed the
White House, and therefore this, somehow, means it was actually a personal
fight against Yeltsin. Against "me."
It's hard not to agree with him. Judging from his memoirs, long months
before anyone expected the sort of military confrontation that rocked
Moscow in 1993, Yeltsin was brooding on just that type of violence.
In 1992 and 1993, Yeltsin and the leaders of parliament were dickering
over a new Russian constitution. They met, and, starting on the basis of
the old Soviet Constitution, they began to submit proposed changes.
Yeltsin's amendments - many of which tried to secure for the Kremlin
sweeping powers rarely seen in a democracy - were often rejected. The
leaders of the Supreme Soviet, themselves not above making a grab for
power, in turn submitted their own amendments, and these often fared
better, to Yeltsin's impatience.
So, Yeltsin naturally decided parliament was insane.
"When I could calmly reflect over what had happened, I realized that the
parliament was suffering from collective insanity. Such a body cannot run a
country. It was already smelling of a revolutionary situation. And the
predominant smell of revolution is blood."
In July 1993, Yeltsin presented a draft Russian Constitution to
parliament. His version would have let him disperse parliament almost at
will. He was met with a disapproving rumble, including whistles and
"I suddenly had a sharp and clear realization," Yeltsin wrote of that
experience. "Once again, I was experiencing an overwhelming urge to break
up this entire gang."
Some may protest that they sympathize with Yeltsin's frustration with the
Russian Supreme Soviet of 1992 and 1993, and indeed that's an
But Yeltsin doesn't stop there. Looking back on that Supreme Soviet, he
"There is an opinion that our former parliament was a freak in the
wonderful family of parliaments in the world, all of which were
intelligent, decorous, and utterly democratic. But that's not completely
the case. The words congressman, deputy or senator in various languages are
not surrounded by such a glowing halo. We have only to recall Mark Twain
to realize that this elected body has long been associated in the minds of
Western people with corruption, official sloth and an inflated and empty
Elsewhere in the book, Yeltsin writes that he is far from convinced having
various separate branches of government - judicial, legislative, executive
- can provide stability. And in what seems a uniquely relevant passage
these days, he also remembers Ruslan Khasbulatov's failed impeachment drive:
"Why is the word impeachment so terrible? After all, if the Congress
passed such a motion it would have no legal force. A popularly elected
president could not be removed from power by the Congress, especially this
Congress [of 1993], which had long ago lost the people's trust. ..."
"What's important is the legal substance of the issue - the Congress does
not have the power to remove the president because it did not elect him.
Any schoolchild could understand that. But the Russian word impichmyent,
borrowed from the English 'impeachment', had been pronounced, and for our
people the word itself had a mystical, sacred meaning, especially because
it was foreign."
To be fair, these were words pronounced about an impeachment drive by
parliament with far less legitimacy than today's State Duma. Nevertheless,
Yeltsin's thoughts meander in some disturbing directions:
"What in fact should be done if I were removed from power after all? I was
not afraid of this possibility. I was ready for it. If the parliament was
to pass such a resolution, I saw only one way out: to appeal to the people.
The people would not let me down, of that I was absolutely certain."
Yeltsin loves power for the sake of power. He has no real larger vision
for the nation - a fact he admits in one of the most incredible, if opaque,
passages in the book. It describes "those stressful days after the [failed
August 1991] coup." Yeltsin is casting about for a prime minister with a
plan, a vision - because Yeltsin may know how to get power and how to hold
on to it, but he's not quite sure what to do with it:
"I had an urgent need to share the total responsibility of running the
country with someone, to assign to someone else the long-term planning and
selection of course of action and personnel, leaving me free to conceive
all the tactics and strategy of the immediate political struggle."
The immediate political struggle. That's all. Tactics for the immediate
political struggle. As to "long-term planning" and "selection of a course
of action," these are matters the president can "assign" to "someone else."
Yeltsin loves power so much that he writes in "The Struggle for Russia"
that being without it briefly was the "perhaps the hardest period of my
This was 1988, when Mikhail Gorbachev kicked Yeltsin out of the politburo.
He did not have Yeltsin killed or jailed or exiled to Siberia. He set him
up with a cushy job at the construction ministry. The "hardest period of my
whole life" was waiting for the elite to call and to invite Yeltsin back:
"Sometimes I felt like pulling my telephone right out of the wall. It
seemed to be an intruder from the world that had chucked me out so harshly.
There was almost a physical sensation that this little white phone on my
desk concealed some threat, that it would explode any minute, bringing new
troubles. I was sitting in the minister's office at Gosstroi, the state
construction ministry, and this telephone, white with a red-and-gold Soviet
state seal, was sitting on my desk. A feeling of dead silence and
emptiness surrounded me. ... Gorbachev appeared to be gracious, sparing
and pitying me. But few people know what torture it is to sit in the dread
silence of an office, in a complete vacuum, subconsciously waiting for
something. For this telephone with the state seal to ring."
"As I whiled away the long hours in the Gosstroi office, I finally figured
out my relations with Gorbachev," Yeltsin adds.
Later he describes his ascendance as the Russian president, and his
negotiations with Gorbachev over control of the nation. We see that he had
indeed figured out his relations with Gorbachev - but when Yeltsin talks
about Gorbachev, he sounds more like he's describing himself: "Something
seemingly intolerable for such a man as Gorbachev was happening - the
restriction of power."
It's been years since "The Struggle for Russia" was written. But Yeltsin
was even then already into his old age; how much has he changed since? In
2000, Yeltsin's term ends. He has fought so passionately and so viciously
for power, he has rationalized away so many contradictions, and he
continues to react with furious jealousy at the sight of every rival - even
those he grooms personally for power.
Will he leave in 2000?
"Sooner or later, I will leave political life," Yeltsin writes at the very
end of the book. "I will exit according to the Constitution, and the law. I
would definitely like to set the precedent of a normal, civilized, orderly
departure from politics.
"Leaders have never voluntarily parted with power in Russia. ... I am
trying to comprehend this phenomenon of Russian rule. What explains it? ...
It's as if leaders were told: you have been given power, so hang on to it.
Don't let it go for anything. Whoever is on top must step on those below.
... Everyone strives upward, to the very top. Higher and higher still. Once
you have scrambled to the top, the altitude is so dizzying, you cannot
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