This Date's Issues: 3301 •
Johnson's Russia List
23 May 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: New Russia PM says no quarrels with Yeltsin.
2. THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION PRISM: Elena Dikun, PRIMAKOV IS SHOWN THE DOOR;
DUMA THREATENED WITH DISSOLUTION.
3. The Independent on Sunday (UK): Kazaks struggle to refill their lost sea
Draining the Aral destroyed a way of life. Sue Lloyd-Roberts reports on
attempts to bring the water back.
4. Moscow Times: Sarah Karush, Kremlin Warned By Fickle
5. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Andrey Kolomiytsev, Power Puts People to the Test.
(Lebed: Example of Statesman of Tomorrow ).
6. Radiostantsiya Ekho Moskvy: Zyuganov Interviewed on Stepashin's Approval.
7. Moskovskiy Komsomolets: Aleksandr Budberg, Experiences of Premier
Nine Months That Did Not Shake Russia.]
New Russia PM says no quarrels with Yeltsin
By Ron Popeski
MOSCOW, May 22 (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said on
Saturday had no quarrel with President Boris Yeltsin on the composition of
his still incomplete cabinet.
But key economic posts remained vacant amid signs of a looming struggle for
influence over the new premier.
Yeltsin left Moscow on Friday for what was expected to be a two-week Black
Sea holiday in the middle of frantic efforts by Stepashin to mould a team to
haul Russia out of economic crisis.
His departure fuelled rumours that the ageing leader could be sidelined in
the crucial process.
"There are no contradictions between the president's administration and that
of the government," news agencies quoted Stepashin as saying as he formally
presented new Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. "There is a single team of
the President of the Russian Federation."
Analysts and the Russian media were sceptical.
The respected business daily Kommersant had as its headline: "President sent
on holiday to keep out of the way."
Analysts said both Yeltsin and Stepashin were under increasing pressure from
influential business tycoons who want to put in place ministers loyal to
Yeltsin appointed several ministers before his departure for the resort of
Sochi. He also named Rushailo, a Stepashin ally, as interior minister -- the
sensitive portfolio the prime minister held in the previous government --
with responsibility for taking on rampant crime and corruption.
Although parliament's lower house, the State Duma, approved Stepashin by a
wide margin this week, many members suggested he would not be given a free
hand by Yeltsin. They also predicted his administration would be little more
than a lame duck with general and presidential elections approaching.
Stepashin had defended his independence to the assembly, pledging to clean up
corruption once and for all and vowing he would be beholden to no one, not
even the president.
Interfax news agency quoted Stepashin in his latest comments as saying that
Rushailo, a career policeman with experience in fighting the underworld, was
his choice and not subject to pressure from anyone else.
Some ministers were reappointed on Friday by Yeltsin -- Igor Ivanov as
foreign minister, Igor Sergeyev at defence, Sergei Shoigu as emergencies
minister and Pavel Krasheninnikov as justice minister. Former railways
minister Nikolai Aksyonenko was appointed a first deputy prime minister in
charge of the economy.
But the new premier was dealt early setbacks when a prospective candidate for
agriculture minister turned down the job. Prominent economist Alexander
Zhukov said he would agree to enter government only as first deputy prime
minister with broad powers to manage the country's finances.
Yeltsin has the final say in naming ministers. Stepashin, long an ally of the
president, said he would present suggestions for government structures next
week in Sochi.
Yeltsin's departure followed a week in which he won approval from parliament
for Stepashin and defeated an attempt to impeach him after his abrupt sacking
of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. He also caused a brief health scare by
missing a meeting.
A new political party made up of regional leaders entered the Russian
political scene on Saturday with the aim of contesting December's
parliamentary election and powerful Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said he hoped
to form an alliance with it.
Luzhkov said a pact between his Fatherland Party and the new grouping,
founded in Russia's second city St Petersburg, stood to perform well in
elections to the Duma.
THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION
A BI-WEEKLY ON THE POST-SOVIET STATES
5/21/99 No.10 Part 2
PRIMAKOV IS SHOWN THE DOOR; DUMA THREATENED WITH DISSOLUTION
By Elena Dikun
Elena Dikun is a political columnist for "Obshchaya gazeta."
On May 12 Russian President Boris Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov and appointed First Vice Premier Sergei Stepashin as acting head of
government. Once again the head of state has brought the political situation
in the country to a head: It is now perfectly possible that the State Duma
will be dissolved, given that neither the deputies nor Yeltsin have anything
more to lose.
WHY WAS HE SACKED?
The dismissal of Primakov's government did not really come as a shock; it
had long been predicted and expected. At the end of April, after the
Federation Council refused for a second time to bow to the president's
request to fire the prosecutor general, the Kremlin warned that tough
measures were on the way. The head of the president's administration,
Aleksandr Voloshin, said that anyone stirring up the situation would be
dealt with fully and firmly. Voloshin believes that the blame for blocking
Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov's dismissal lies primarily with former
Prime Minister Primakov, who was too half-hearted in instructing the
senators which way to vote. "Yevgeny Maksimovich [Primakov] was working to
his own agenda on that one," the administration chief said.
The liberal Voloshin is an irreconcilable opponent and outspoken critic of
Primakov. He sent regular memos to the president portraying the government's
actions in an extremely negative light and backing this up with relevant
statistics. In particular, he accused Primakov of being unable to strike a
credit deal with the International Monetary Fund, without which Russia could
not avoid defaulting. But the main charge the Kremlin leveled against
Primakov was that he failed to persuade the State Duma to call off the vote
on impeachment, and had become too close to--almost hostage to--the
left-wing opposition. "If the Duma votes to impeach the president even on
one charge, there is no sense in retaining the left-wing vice premiers Yuri
Maslyukov and Gennady Kulik in the government," high-ranking Kremlin
officials said prior to the May 15 impeachment vote. Given that Primakov had
never indicated that he would resign if his colleagues were dismissed, these
comments can be taken as a clear hint of his own impending dismissal. But
despite all the warnings, the prime minister did not begin a selfless
campaign against impeachment. This would have entailed breaking with the
left-wing majority in the Duma, and Primakov did not have any other power
base. This is why he made a rather listless attempt, for form's sake, to
dissuade the deputies from going through with their venture.
The May Day holiday was spent in tense anticipation--would the president
sack the prime minister? In public Yeltsin made no attempt to conceal his
growing dislike for Primakov; he made, in fact, a point of emphasizing it.
First he suggested to the prime minister, in front of the television
cameras, that he visit a sauna to get his bad back seen to, and then stopped
acknowledging Primakov altogether. But it was not clear, up to the last
minute, what Primakov's fate would be. On the evening of May 11, the first
deputy head of the president's administration, Oleg Sysuev, told journalists
that no decree had been drafted on the prime minister's dismissal: What to
do about the government would be decided after the Duma had debated the
impeachment issue. There were no plans for a preemptive strike.
Kremlin specialists had warned Yeltsin about the negative consequences of
firing Primakov. First, there would be total disarray in the White House for
the two or three months it took to form a new government. Second, any
instability would generate a rise in inflation. Third, the dismissal would
break the recent political truce. But Yeltsin did not heed these prudent
arguments. The decision to sack Primakov was taken on the night of May
11-12, by a very small circle of people which included, in addition to the
president, Tatyana Dyachenko, Aleksandr Voloshin and Valentin Yumashev.
Why was the prime minister fired before the results of the impeachment vote
were known? To all appearances, the president was so fed up with Primakov
that he could no longer bear to put up with him, even for a few more weeks.
Further, Yeltsin, who had been written off because of his chronic illness,
wanted to show who was boss again.
WHO HAS TAKEN OVER?
Informed Kremlin sources say that there were, in fact, two draft
presidential decrees to appoint an acting prime minister. The first named
the minister for railways, Nikolai Aksenenko; the second--the back-up--named
the first deputy prime minister and interior minister, Sergei Stepashin. The
president's closest circle had insisted on their minion Aksenenko, and the
president even signed the corresponding decree, but at the last moment he
was persuaded to reject the idea by Anatoly Chubais, who had rushed out to
the Gorki-9 country residence. Chubais was of the opinion that appointing an
unknown would destabilize the already precarious situation in the country
even further. It would be more sensible on this occasion to choose the
moderate and intelligent "power" minister Stepashin. The upshot was that
Aksenenko was appointed first deputy prime minister.
Sergei Stepashin is totally loyal to the president and has always served him
faithfully and honestly. Suffice to recall that in October 1993 Stepashin
deserted his post as committee chairman of the Supreme Soviet and crossed
over to the president's side. He was appointed first deputy minister for
security and was visibly supportive of Yeltsin. The Kremlin is confident
that Stepashin would never embark on an independent political career without
the president's blessing. His long-standing link with Yeltsin was sealed by
the war in Chechnya: Stepashin is thought to be one of its instigators.
Today, General-Colonel Stepashin enjoys a deep understanding with another
"power" minister loyal to the president--Security Council secretary and FSB
chief Vladimir Putin. Nikolai Aksenenko is also thought to enjoy the trust
of the president's "family." He is known as Berezovsky's man, and there are
rumors that Aksenenko has links with Berezovsky's paymaster Roman
Abramovich, head of Sibneft. As Aksenenko controls one of the largest
monopolies--the railways--he is jokingly referred to as the last oligarch.
The considerable financial resources under the minister's control may prove
very useful during the elections. Nothing is known of the railway minister's
Analysts note that the promotion of Stepashin and Aksenenko is a very good
sign for Boris Berezovsky, whose relations with Stepashin are also cordial.
It is quite possible that the "gray cardinal" will soon make his comeback in
What next? As it stands now, the situation is confusing: It is not even
known who the key figures in the new cabinet responsible for macroeconomics
and fiscal policy will be. "We will play the formation of the cabinet by
ear," said Aleksandr Voloshin. However, the impression given is that the
Kremlin simply does not have any viable candidates up its sleeve to
implement the new economic policy, just as there is no clear-cut plan as to
what to do next. Prior to Stepashin's confirmation by the Duma on May 19,
officials from Yeltsin's administration were saying that they wanted things
to develop peacefully, that nobody wanted to dissolve the Duma. But they
conceded that Stepashin's appointment and parliament's dissolution were not
mutually exclusive. In other words, they have clearly also been preparing
for a non-peaceful solution to the political crisis.
To this end, it would be possible to engineer a lawful dissolution of
parliament by raising the issue of confidence in the cabinet. To achieve
this, the posts of deputy prime minister would be given to figures totally
unacceptable to the left-wing opposition. The name most mentioned in this
connection is that of Anatoly Chubais. If the president does decide to
dissolve parliament, it can be expected that other drastic measures will
follow. It is no coincidence that rumors have recently been circulating in
Moscow that Yeltsin is prepared simultaneously to ban the Communist Party of
the Russian Federation and to abolish elections by party lists.
The Independent on Sunday (UK)
23 May 1999
[for personal use only]
Kazaks struggle to refill their lost sea
Draining the Aral destroyed a way of life. Sue Lloyd-Roberts reports on
attempts to bring the water back
"ANOTHER journalist?" The mayor of Aral'sk looks at me wearily. "If every
journalist and so-called expert who'd been here over the last 10 years had
brought a bucket of water with them, the problem of the Aral Sea would have
been solved by now."
The draining of the Aral Sea was the product of one of those big ideas
encapsulated in five-year plans and favoured by Soviet state planners in the
1960s. The mighty Syr Darya river was diverted into irrigation canals to feed
cotton fields which in turn would transform the economy of Central Asia.
Alas, the scheme coincided with the fashion for man-made fibres. The people
of one of the poorest areas in the world never grew rich and, further
downstream, the Aral Sea emptied to half its original size, destroying the
local fishing industry and the lives of thousands of people who lived on its
But this time, at least, the mayor, Aitbai Kuserbaliv, had something new to
show. We arranged to meet on the helicopter pad the next day. Ten minutes
into the flight over the old sea bed, now a tragic picture of salt marshes,
marooned fishing boats and grazing camels, he pointed out of the window with
excitement. "Look, it's come back." And sure enough, there was the glimpse of
water and even a seagull gliding by.
"We had to take matters into our own hands," he explains. "All those experts
came, made promises and never came back." Astonishingly, for the poorest
region in post-independence, bankrupt Kazakhstan, the regional government and
local people raised £300,000 to build a 10-mile dam across the mouth of the
Syr Darya. So far nine million cubic metres of water have been reclaimed,
though this is at the expense of communities further south, who now receive
not a drop from the trickle to which the Syr Darya has been reduced. Even the
water Aral'sk has managed to capture is not yet enough to restore the fishing
industry, but at least it covers the seabed close to the town, reducing the
noxious clouds of salt blown over its inhabitants.
While salt pollutes the air, the water supply has been poisoned by the
millions of tonnes of pesticides dumped on the cotton fields. In the
maternity hospital in Aral'sk, Dr Kadyrbaev Amangeldy has packed nine
pregnant women into wards designed for four. All are anaemic, and some have
had eight, even 10, miscarriages. By ensuring that as many women in the
region as possible get adequate food and clean water for the last few weeks
of their pregnancies, he is hoping that more babies will survive in a region
where the population is falling dramatically.
Wearing a faded green nightdress which enhances the paleness of her face,
35-year-old Banash Tapalova looks much older. "It's my ninth pregnancy and I
have yet to give birth," she said. "We all have the sickness here. Now I am
eight months pregnant again and very afraid."
Dr Amangeldy explains that people accumulate so much sand and stones in their
kidneys from the polluted air and water that they bleed. "Women don't get
enough protein from food grown locally to restore the damage, and the salt
rots their kidneys, veins and wombs," he says. "Over the last 10 years,
one-in-four babies have died." If his records are accurate, that is the
highest infant mortality rate in the world.
The United Nations labelled the Aral Sea an "ecological disaster area", and
"a fat lot of good it did us", says Mr Kuserbaliv, who has used his visit to
the dam to check on the workers there. Funds have run out, and their wages
have not been paid for several weeks. But at least they have hope, they tell
him, a commodity which has become as scarce as fresh water .
The dam has broken several times in recent weeks, and earth diggers and
lorries manoeuvre frantically in a race against time. "The World Bank came
and did another survey the other day and said we would need $80m (£50m) to
finish the job," the mayor says. "We've run out of money, people are dying
and they're going to hold a conference to discuss it."
We land in one of the many former fishing villages which now resemble desert
oases, far from the reclaimed water. Three hundred families once lived here;
there was even a secondary school and clinic. Now nearly everyone has left.
Two old men sit on their favourite vantage point, watching camels grazing
where boats once lay at anchor. "Is it true that the sea is coming back? Have
you really seen it?" they ask the mayor. "Yes, it is true," Mr Kuserbaliv
replies. He cannot bear to tell them that all their hopes now rest with yet
another conference of bankers, meeting 5,000 miles away.
Sue Lloyd-Roberts' film on the Aral Sea will be shown on 'Newsnight'
May 22, 1999
Kremlin Warned By Fickle Luzhkov
By Sarah Karush
In another sign that Yury Luzhkov's hot-and-cold relationship with the
Kremlin has turned icy again, the Moscow mayor declared Friday that he would
not support any unconstitutional moves by federal authorities.
The comment, spoken at a meeting of a union of non-state security workers, is
just the latest blow in a weeklong war of words between the Kremlin and
Luzhkov, a likely contender to succeed President Boris Yeltsin in the 2000
"We're ready to support the decisions of the authorities that are within the
constitutional realm. But if their actions go beyond the framework of the
Constitution, we should do everything possible to oppose them," Interfax
quoted Luzhkov as saying.
Luzhkov also criticized the dismissal of former Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov and the role of the presidential administration.
"Is it a stabilizing, constructive force that calms society or does it have
other functions?" he asked.
The mayor said the State Duma's attempt to impeach Yeltsin showed that there
was little confidence in the president's leadership.
Luzhkov, however, is doing well in the polls. A poll conducted recently by
the Public Opinion Fund showed that Luzhkov would beat Communist leader
Gennady Zyuganov, Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Lebed or Yabloko
leader Grigory Yavlinsky in a presidential election runoff, Interfax
Luzhkov's control of the capital's purse strings give him enormous political
power. Additionally, control of the Moscow police and security forces could
give him a key role during any state of emergency or violent confrontation
between political forces.
In the past, Luzhkov has often used his power in Yeltsin's favor, and his
support played a big role in Yeltsin's 1996 re-election.
But lately, the mayor has become a critic. On Tuesday, he reiterated his
contention that Yeltsin's attempt to fire Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov
was unlawful and praised a city court ruling that declared it so, Interfax
On Wednesday, Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a frequent Kremlin supporter,
sent Yeltsin a letter suggesting that the Moscow mayor's office be banned and
in its place a federal ministry for Moscow affairs be set up.
On the same day, a Moscow City Duma deputy introduced a bill calling for
early mayoral elections - a move that would help Luzhkov in his plans to run
for president next year.
Last week the Justice Ministry said Luzhkov's Otechestvo, or Fatherland,
party would not be able to run in an early Duma poll since it would have been
registered less than a year. Luzhkov quickly replied that Otechestvo would be
on the ballot no matter what, and warned against what he called
Lebed: Example of Statesman of Tomorrow
13 May 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Andrey Kolomiytsev: "Power Puts People to the Test"
Russia has always respected a man in armor or uniform--a
defender, maybe good, maybe not so good, a defender nevertheless.
Isn't this the reason for the abundance of generals in Russian politics?
People with shoulder straps have surprisingly little
difficulty getting elected as deputies and governors. Remember how
people in Kursk did not want to register Aleksandr Rutskoy? He
conducted his election campaign in three days and won with an
overwhelming majority. Well-known individuals, including former
Russian Premier Ivan Silayev, opposed General Andrey Nikolayev in a
Moscow district. But the general won. And in Krasnoyarsk?
Everybody under the sun campaigned against Lebed--from Zykina to
Zhirinovskiy. Zyuganov made a special trip to Siberia in order to
impair his likely opponent in the presidential elections.
The first round of presidential elections was recently held in
Karachayevo-Cherkessia. The republic is agricultural and peaceful;
it does not intend to fight with Yakutia or Buryatia. However, its
legislation is far from perfect. But a well-known lawyer, a member
of the Constitutional Court of Russia, Karachayevo native Boris
Ebzeyev, received only 6 percent of the votes. General Semenov, who
has all his life served as an Army commander and has no knowledge of
sheep breeding, gardening, or legislative work, received three times
as many votes. It seems that shoulder straps, uniforms, and military bearing
hypnotize undecided citizens. Generals almost always have an
electoral advantage over civilians in Russia.
Unfortunately, upon assuming power and replacing the uniform
with a civilian suit, the military commanders realize that it is
harder to manage even a small territory under their jurisdiction
than to be in command of a military district. There are different
principles, uncommon levers, and unclear subordinates who, by the
way, are not exactly subordinates. In the military, a general
demands performance from his subordinates. In civilian life, rank-
and-file people hold meetings, sometimes carry unpleasant banners,
and voice collective demands of the general. What are they
demanding? Primarily money, but sometimes also order. However, the
general can provide neither money nor order. Since order is not
military in civilian life.
Remember how General Rutskoy's supporters hoped that Aleksandr
Vladimirovich would quickly establish himself in Kursk Oblast: He
was energetic and persistent--it was supposed to work. But from the
beginning he experienced problems and feuds with his team, and first
of all, problems with the economy. I do not blame Rutskoy. He
simply was taught differently in the military: An order was issued,
the order was understood, and the order was fulfilled! But how can
one make cows increase milk yields if they did not take the oath?
Simple-looking guys quickly realize what is in their best interest:
Make a living, earn extra money, or steal. If it appears that
stealing is more beneficial, then neither speeches nor order will
work... Alas, it is better to graduate from a law school than from a
military academy when it comes to running an oblast. [passage omitted]
Military commander is a profession. Civilian manager is also
a profession. The lessons of history are quite clear on this. [passage
Chechnya is the most recent and sad example. It might seem
that the Chechens decided to fight for independence and therefore
invited Dudayev to become president. Unfortunately, the sequence of
events was different. Dudayev was asked to assume power not as a
military commander, but as a renowned and respected person. The
republic is poor and the economy is in shambles. Is it possible to
attract investments, deal with small business, and gradually improve
production? A completely different leader is need to fulfill such
tasks. Obviously, Dudayev leaned towards his profession. And what
does a general do best? Fight.
The result is known. Dudayev was killed, hundreds of
thousands of people are homeless, the republic is in ruins, and the
independence of impoverished Ichkeria does not provide anybody with
anything but hardship. The war is not over: Local leaders continue
settling scores with each other. Why? Simply because the field
commanders were not able to learn to do anything but shoot...
Obviously, there are exceptions to any rule. For example, it
is possible to assume that after graduating from the tough
gubernatorial school, Aleksandr Lebed will become a statesman who
will be needed by the Russia of tomorrow. However, the country is
more likely to emerge from the crisis with the help of economists
and business people who are standing firmly on their feet and who
achieved stable success under the semi-wild Russian market
conditions; as experienced soldiers, they will be able to protect
and teach, and lead newcomers in their footsteps.
One cannot choose a country as well as a time: The country is
as it is. Therefore, we will have to make our country, as it is, a
prosperous, influential, and great power. The question remains how
to achieve this: under orders or under management?
Zyuganov Interviewed on Stepashin's Approval
Radiostantsiya Ekho Moskvy
19 May 1999
[translation for personal use only]
[Presenter] It's 1347 in Moscow. Aleksey
Venediktov is in the studio. [Passage omitted: brief recap on the State
Duma's approval of Sergey Stepashin as prime minister and speculation on
the possible outcome of the vote]
We will find out about Stepashin's approval from those who were
directly involved in the debate and about their views of the situation.
Gennadiy Andreyevich, good day this is Aleksey Venediktov.
[Gennadiy Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party] Good day, Aleksey. I am
glad to hear your voice.
[Venediktov] Gennadiy, thank you for agreeing to answer our questions,
as we have received quite a few telephone calls from our listeners. We
have received the results of the vote by the factions and both we and the
audience have learnt that while you and [Valentin] Kuptsov did not vote,
[Svetlana] Goryacheva voted for and [Anatoliy] Lukyanov voted against.
What was your faction's stance on this issue, the issue of Stepashin's
[A] Our stance remains unchanged: while the country is headed by the
chief wrecker, not a single government will be able to work. We have had
to examine the issue of prime minister seven times over the past 12
months. All this is turning into a sort of routine or a formal procedure,
while the situation is getting worse and worse. [Ex prime minister
Yevgeniy] Primakov's government would have coped. Instead he was sacked
at a time when the situation had started to improve slightly.
As regards Stepashin, the choice here was between the bad and the
worse, because the president is not capable of maintaining a dialogue
either with the Duma or the nation. Therefore, the faction had suggested
a free vote. Why free? Because they met their heads of administration -
many of them are dependent on the government - irrespective of its
quality. They discussed this and put forward a few recommendations. That
was the reason why they voted the way they voted. We think that they
voted correctly. This once again shows that they do not trust the regime
which does not provide for a normal kind of dialogue or normal political
We will not join this government. We voiced our recommendations and
requests, especially the one that children, the elderly, invalids,
teachers, doctors and miners should be supported - those who were
suffering - and that Primakov's policy should be continued, aimed at
strengthening the role of the state, supporting domestic producers and
supporting the poor. And a great number of other things, especially
fighting corruption and banditry. We will see what happens. I am
confident that Boris Yeltsin and his entourage will not allow any prime
minister to work normally, including Stepashin.
Now [the former CIS executive secretary, Boris] Berezovskiy will drag in
his people and [the head of the Unified Energy System, Anatoliy] Chubays
will drag in his. We will see all this when appointments are made in the
[Q] Gennadiy Andreyevich, your faction is still the largest one. Even if
you decide not to nominate any of your people for certain posts in
Stepashin's [government] - I don't know whether he asked you about this
or not - are you planning to influence the government's personnel policy
in any way?
[A] It is impossible to make any impact on the personnel policy under
these conditions. If corrupt and bankrupt people were appointed - I told
them publicly in front of the entire country - we will not do any
business with them, we will not examine any of their laws. We will show
what they are like.
[Passage omitted: Zyuganov criticicizes the Russian constitution and the
[Q] To conclude, I would like to ask you a very important question:
Yevgeniy Maksimovich Primakov has submitted a package of bills which are
being examined in this or that form by the State Duma's committees. I
know that at his meeting with you, Sergey Vladimirovich Stepashin talked
about the importance of adopting these laws by your faction. What is the
stance of your faction as regards Primakov's package of bills?
[A] We have agreed that the new government should examine this package
thoroughly and name the priority ones which are needed to support our
domestic producers and to ease their lives. These will be examined as
priorities. [Passage omitted: concluding remarks by the presenter]
Primakov Government Legacy Viewed
18 May 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Aleksandr Budberg: "Experiences of Premier Primakov; Nine
Months That Did Not Shake Russia"
Knowing how to retire gracefully without allowing
yourself to give vent to your emotions is an art. An art which generates
enormous respect. Yevgeniy Primakov left like a gentleman, once more
confirming the common opinion that he is a man with a great sense of his
own dignity. There can be no doubt that although no one leaves the post
of premier without sorrow, his smile on the day of his dismissal was
entirely sincere. But nor can there be any doubt that an enormous number
of officials of all stripes who saw in Primakov a kind of battering ram
for their own definitive return to the pinnacles of power were thinking
that day that it would be better for Yevgeniy Maksimovich to "bend a
little more" in some direction but to remain premier. Without him the
chances of the majority of the nomenklatura taking part in "steering the
country" are equal to zero. The nine months of his cabinet did not end in
the birth of a new power.
Leader of the Gray-Hairs
Primakov's government arose in September last year as a compromise. The
liberals who had been in power tried to "break away" from the so-called
oligarchs, adopted a number of tough decisions, found themselves alone,
and were obliged to retreat. But the depth of the crisis was so huge that
even the oligarchs representing a substantial proportion of the new
Russian elite did not manage to grab the helm. The confrontation between
the president and the opposition had reached a dangerous point when the
figure of Primakov emerged. A figure who was linked to neither the
oligarchs nor the liberals nor the left-wingers. He was a figure who had
emerged from among the old nomenklatura and who represented their
interests. After 1991 the old nomenklatura was divided into those who had
joined the authorities and those who had taken their position in
opposition to it. Since among the parliament's "leading rabble-rousers"
former functionaries play an even greater role than the firm fighters
against the "anti-people regime," Primakov was able to reconcile both
The government which Yevgeniy Maksimovich formed was wrongly called a
communist one. There can be no doubt that Maslyukov had no more in common
with Ilyukhin and Makashov than with Nemtsov or Chubays. What is curious
is that initially Yevgeniy Maksimovich tried to rely not only on
Maslyukov and Kulik, who played leading roles in the Russian Government
both before and after 1991, but also on representatives of the
nomenklatura new wave like Shokhin or Ryzhkov. But at that time these
boys were frightened to join the government, which they have probably
already had occasion repeatedly to regret.
The government which emerged as a result proved to be neither to the
right nor the left. It was a government of professional managers who over
the years of reforms had lost their positions and were essentially taken
out of mothballs by Primakov. This could not fail to affect the White
House even purely outwardly. The average age of the apparatus staffers
increased in the course of a few weeks literally before our eyes. Shiny
bald pates and distinguished gray hair filled the corridors of the
Government House. And if by comparison with the "young reformers" both
Kulik and Maslyukov, with his three heart attacks, could not strike
anyone with their capacity for work, what can we say of lesser officials.
As soon as the leaders disappeared, for instance, as soon as the premier
had left for somewhere, the White House would almost expire as evening
Naturally the senior cadres did not bring new habits to the government. Aware
that their time was short, officials of various levels brought back into
circulation (or to be more precise brought into far wider usage) the
expression "price of the question." Many appointments, government
decrees, requests, and the preparation of particular documents, in the
opinion of people in the know, cost absolutely specific sums in cash.
They say that even some ministers and committee leaders were replaced for
a fee. For instance, there are rumors that a whole series of suppressed
scandals in the Committee for State Reserves could serve as an
illustration. So when Yavlinskiy accused Primakov's government of
corruption he could undoubtedly provide a lot of proof. It is not for
nothing that Primakov, who at first took the very tough "let them prove
it" stance, later soft-pedaled the issue.
The leaders of the new cabinet had their own ideological preferences.
Most likely they can be called technocrats of the last Soviet era. The
thrust of that era can be expressed simply: There is already a market,
but not for everyone. Those whom the state has put in place concern
themselves with it. Nor is there any joint [sovmetstnaya] competition.
And money is earned only by those who have been able to prove to their
highly decorated bosses that they will share it honestly and
punctiliously fulfill all assignments. If you recall, the late eighties
saw the flowering of KGB business when staffers from the foremost special
service had already started up all kinds of exports and imports. One
affair -- involving arms supplies by the "ANT" cooperative -- became an
One former major Russian official explained to your Moskovskiy
Komsomolets correspondent Primakov's views of the events of the past
decade: "By 1989 everyone realized that the economy would have to be
changed and property would have to be shared out. Everything was going
that way. And this property had to be acquired by a cohesive state elite
that had been tested over decades. But a group of madmen spoiled it all
in August 1991. The pyramid was overturned and the wrong people acquired
property. People appeared whom no one knew, people who had never known
how to control the country, weak, corrupt people who reduced Russia to
such a sorry state." Hence the conclusion that property must be shared
out again. And that the nouveaux riches should be removed from power. And
that they should create their own oligarchs, strictly controlled by the
state. After all, it is impossible rapidly to create wealth without a
budget, without tax or other concessions. Profit remains where the state
determines. So all the oligarchs must treat the government deferentially.
And these oligarchs must be selected from tested and trained fighters.
Overall, a scheme on a par with that of 1989-1990.
Struggle against "collective reason"
In the political sphere it was all quite different from the economy.
Although Primakov's cabinet seemed not to have made any sharp movements,
the situation since the fall had changed before our very eyes. The
leftists, and not only the moderates but also the extremists, had been
abruptly activated. Even in the summer it was impossible to imagine
pathological anti-Semites like Makashov and Ilyukhin bringing their
convictions out of the kitchen and onto the streets. It was impossible to
imagine that Barkashov's supporters would risk a march on Moscow. In the
international policy sphere it was also hard to imagine that long before
the Yugoslav events the US secretary of state would be greeted in our
country as the envoy of a "potential enemy." And that she would literally
not be allowed to meet with President Yeltsin. So much has been written
about the confrontation between the government and the mass media that
their mutual dislike has become a commonplace.
At the same time attempts to cut off from state management the
oligarchs who were the very people who had earned their position at the
helm solely by their proximity to the czar's person could not fail to
generate sympathy and respect. At one moment it seemed that Primakov
would be able to put a lid on the situation and occupy the entire
political field. That was exactly until the moment the president started
to feel better.
It was noted long ago that Russia's entire domestic policy is a
function of President Yeltsin's health. When the president feels better
attempts begin to do something and to implement some reforms. When he
falls ill everything at best is instantly plunged into lethargy. Until
February the president's immediate entourage, which is usually identified
as Dyachenko and Yumashev (although in actual fact it includes an
enormous number of people with the most diverse aspirations -- from
Berezovskiy to his implacable adversary Chubays) hoped that it would be
possible to conclude "a union treaty" with Primakov. For these people the
number one question now is by no means the post of prime minister but who
will replace Yeltsin in the middle of 2000. Their opportunity to take
part in state management depends on this. The candidacy of the potential
heir was the main subject of trading between the Staff and Primakov.
Primakov was offered various candidates with whom he had good relations.
Internal Affairs Minister Stepashin, Foreign Minister Ivanov, Defense
Minister Sergeyev, and so on and so forth.
It got to the point of anecdotes. In February, in a talk with Tatyana
Dyachenko, Primakov was trying to prove to her what fine professional
ministers he had working for him: "Look, there's Ivanov, Stepashin...."
But when Dyachenko promptly asked whether they could be viewed as
potential heirs first to Primakov himself and then to Yeltsin, Yevgeniy
Maksimovich without missing a beat replied in a slightly angry tone:
"Who? Stepashin? Ivanov? What do you mean, they are not even close to
being ready...." It became clear that Primakov saw himself as the only
heir to Yeltsin. But by then it had also become absolutely clear that he
had absolutely no intention of agreeing with the elite that had arisen in
the country after 1991. He had acquired a quite confident understanding
of the mechanism of state management, where even in the economy he gave
preference to the power departments. And after February the process
seemed somehow autonomous and was not so dependent on Primakov. He gave
the first impetus and then numerous "reserve officers" began to pull each
other along, creating a quite close network which could very well set
about milking the country.
Then we may conclude that essentially Primakov began a war not against
Berezovskiy alone or against the president's family. He began a war
against the enormous number of businessmen, politicians, and
functionaries who entered power particularly rapidly after 1996. Often it
seemed to observers in the Kremlin that a conflict of the generations was
unfolding before their eyes. One 30-year-old Kremlin denizen, watching
the news in which for some reason Primakov was laying down the law to
journalists, suddenly shouted out furiously: "When will these old-timers
(a euphemism -- A.B.)let the country go?!"
If Yevgeniy Maksimovich had tried to split the monolith of "young
lions" opposing him he would undoubtedly have won. The oligarchs hate
Berezovskiy so much that they would have sunk him with enormous pleasure.
But, by opposing everyone at the same time Primakov essentially doomed
himself to defeat while Berezovskiy was able yet again to save himself,
occupying the spot of "chief fighter for the common cause."
In the struggle against the "young people" grouped around the president
Primakov was increasingly compelled to rely on the communist majority in
the Duma. And at some moment he became a hostage to the Communists. One
increasingly formed the impression that he was as it were betraying the
president, seeking to take his place. And they began to fight Yevgeniy
Maksimovich in earnest.
The Kremlin strategists concluded that psychology was Primakov's weak
spot. The analysis carried out by the Staff leadership showed that
Primakov was serious and independent as a politician but hardly prepared
to suffer the abundant and often unfair blows directed against him
personally. This was the line pursued in the Staff by its new leader,
Aleksandr Voloshin, who for a short while was able to win very important
positions in the Kremlin. There are rumors that on one occasion in April
B.N. [Yeltsin] refused to receive Dyachenko and Yumashev. Aleksandr
Stalyevich had access to Yeltsin at any time, however. Voloshin is indeed
one of the most interesting figures to have appeared in the past six
months. Quite calm and stern, he has been able to mobilize the Staff,
which had been on the point of rotting completely. His work style is best
characterized by the example of the Skuratov case. When Voloshin was
invited to enter into some kind of negotiation with the disgraced general
prosecutor he stated that only one thing could serve as a topic of
negotiation: Would Skuratov go to prison or not?
It was Voloshin who pursued the policy, elaborated by the "collective
reason," of putting an end to the elderly premier. He told journalists
almost openly that "there is unfortunately no alternative to Primakov."
Or that "the government is no longer an ally of the Kremlin and so on and
so forth. They swore at one another almost every time they met. Each
demanded the other's dismissal right in front of the president. After the
events in Yugoslavia when the inappropriate nature of the combat rhetoric
of the Russian Government and military became perfectly obvious, Voloshin
not only told the generals that anyone who mentioned even once more the
possibility of a nuclear war with NATO would be dismissed but directly
told Primakov at a meeting with Yeltsin that Russia's present policy is a
continuation of the erroneous policy which Primakov pursued as foreign
minister and that it contradicts the state's interests. After which
Viktor Chernomyrdin was appointed special representative in the Balkans.
People close to the premier say that Primakov has never been more
insulted in his entire career. He was charged with a lack of
professionalism and outperformed in precisely that field where he
regarded himself as a major expert.
In response Primakov relied still more on the Duma Communists. His
position on impeachment was an extraordinarily characteristic indicator.
During a 90-minute meeting with the faction leaders he spoke for 35
minutes about the economic situation. He spent a further hour talking
about this and that. And only at the end, as one in a series of "and
incidentally" remarks, did he state that he personally and the government
were opposed to impeachment. All this angered Yeltsin enormously. But
there were two things which finally decided Yevgeniy Maksimovich's fate.
During the vote on Skuratov the senators, who are increasingly anxious to
weaken the Center, invited Primakov to adopt a resolution on support for
his government. Primakov, realizing this was an open challenge to the
president, refused. But the Staff realized that his dismissal could not
be delayed. Moreover, Yevgeniy Maksimovich was indeed failing to
withstand the psychological pressure. If he had reacted when they removed
Gustov who, of course, was of no use to anyone in himself, then most
likely the Kremlin would have sounded the retreat. But he took it without
a murmur and the Staff decided that he would not balk too much when he
was dismissed. Everyone became even further convinced of this by
Primakov's decision to meet with Berezovskiy. This was seen as an obvious
weakness, especially as Berezovskiy claimed to everyone that Yevgeniy
Maksimovich wanted to leave quietly. It was therefore considered
particularly important to remove him before the impeachment since there
were no guarantees that Yevgeniy Maksimovich would indeed support the
president if the procedure were initiated. Still less was it possible to
go to the elections if the reds controlled all financial flows in the
What is interesting is that until the last moment both Primakov and the
Communists supporting him were convinced the cabinet would not be
dismissed. On Monday evening, when the Kremlin was already deciding who
to appoint in Primakov's place, Zyuganov said that the president's
situation was so grave he would not dare to remove Primakov. Zyuganov was
simply measuring Yeltsin according to his own yardstick. B.N. has enough
character for all the deputies put together. As soon as it became clear
that the president was in a resolute mood the deputies instantly lost
without a fight.
Returning to Normal
The nine months' experience of Primakov's government is extremely
interesting. In the past Aleksandr Livshits asserted that Russia is
doomed to a left-wing parliament and a right-wing government. Primakov's
cabinet was not right-wing. Yevgeniy Maksimovich set himself very
ambitious tasks. But those nine months showed that Russia's economy is
advancing along a quite strictly outlined track from which it is hard for
any government to leap.
Politics are another matter. But Primakov's experience has shown that pure
revenge -- from the nomenklatura or the Communists -- is impossible. It
is impossible to fail to consider the interests of the people who have
come to power in recent years, of the social groups which they represent.
And even an experienced politician like Primakov has been unable to win
by declaring war on them all. That the "young people" were unable to
remove Primakov before they started fighting each other is another
matter. Through Sibneft leader Roman Abramovich Berezovskiy tried to
persuade Yumashev and Dyachenko to appoint Railways Minister Nikolay
Aksenenko as premier. This angered all the other players. Aksenenko has
quite a bad reputation. And no one wants to have a premier who is under
Berezovskiy's influence. The disgust at Berezovskiy not only in the
country but also in the ruling class is colossal.
On the night before Primakov's dismissal Aksenenko's enemies called on
the heavy artillery -- Anatoliy Chubays -- to help. He entered Voloshin's
office at 2330 hours and left at 0400 in the morning. He spent the entire
four hours trying to persuade the Staff leadership not to be led by
Berezovskiy and to propose the completely neutral Stepashin to the Duma
for approval. Aksenenko meanwhile was waiting in Voloshin's outer office
since he had been summoned for final instructions before a morning
meeting with President Yeltsin. Chubays met with Aksenenko on his way out
of Voloshin's office. But in the end it was Chubays who at 0850 went to
persuade Yeltsin not to aggravate the situation and to propose Stepashin
(something or other about Aksenenko had taken B.N.'s fancy during a
familiarization session). All this allowed the newspapers to conclude
that Primakov had not yet left the cabinet before the war between Chubays
and Berezovskiy erupted with new force.
However that may be, the experience of Primakov's government shows that
while the elite are fighting among themselves there can be no economic
upsurge. And to effect that upsurge state power must be consolidated. In
reality that is possible after the 2000 elections. Perhaps that is one
practical conclusion to be drawn from Primakov's nine months.
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