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Johnson's Russia List


July 25, 1999   
This Date's Issues: 3405 3406 

Johnson's Russia List
25 July 1999

[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Mitchell Landsberg, Russians Ponder Their Next Move
2. Reuters: Martin Nesirky, Primakov says centrists must unite to save 

3. Reuters: Russian calls U.S. ties stable despite Yugoslavia. (Stepashin).
4. Washington Post: Robert Kaiser, In Russia, Limited Visibility.
Freer, But No More Secure in Leadership, Statistics or Tomorrow.

5. Argumenty i Fakty: Interview with US Ambassador James Collins, a
"A Wealthy America Needs a Wealthy Russia."] 


Russians Ponder Their Next Move
July 24, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) - A strange thing happened when Russia's economy collapsed last 
summer. While Western economists spun out the most dire scenarios of 
hyperinflation, social unrest and even civil war, Russians went on with their 
daily business and, for the most part, coped. 

To be sure, they cursed the government ineptitude and corruption that, once 
again, had plundered their pockets and cleaned out their bank accounts. But 
they didn't riot; they didn't stop working; and they didn't starve. 

Nearly a year later, Russia stands at a new crossroads, its political future 
even more the focus of concern. 

Although the economy remains critically ill and on life support with 
International Monetary Fund aid, it has weathered the crisis better than 
almost anyone could have predicted. The ruble has remained relatively stable. 
Some industries are even showing signs of revival. 

That's not to say things are rosy. Russia remains deeply rutted in economic 
depression. Social problems continue to worsen. Declines in health care and 
education threaten the nation's future; growing crime and despair imperil the 

But when people speak of crisis in Russia these days, they are more likely to 
be talking about politics than socio-economics. For Russia's democracy is, at 
best, a work in progress, tattered by intrigue, scandal and corruption. 

President Boris Yeltsin, who has fired three prime ministers in little more 
than a year, recently survived a Communist-led attempt at impeachment and 
emerged politically strengthened and invigorated. Yet, Yeltsin remains an 
ailing and extremely unpopular figure who increasingly draws comparison to 
the doddering leaders who led the Soviet Union to ruin. 

With presidential elections scheduled next summer, some question whether he 
will ever yield power willingly. Recently there has been speculation Yeltsin 
is pushing a merger with tiny Belarus on the pretext that the creation of a 
new, expanded state would free him from his current two-term limit as 

For the better part of a decade, Yeltsin has been the strongest force pushing 
Russia toward the West, much as Peter the Great did three centuries before. 

For a time this spring, NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia awakened a fierce, 
anti-Western nationalism that appeared likely to do what inflation, 
stagnation and scandal could not: Shove Russia off the road it set out on 
roughly a decade ago, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev effectively 
declared the Cold War over and prepared Russia to rejoin the world it had 
turned its back on 70 years before. 

``NATO has opened a new epoch for us like Hitler,'' the author Alexander 
Solzhenitsyn said at one point. 

Yeltsin is clearly having none of that, as his performance at the June 
meeting of world leaders in Cologne, Germany, showed. ``I am among my friends 
now,'' he declared, speaking of such figures as President Clinton and British 
Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

Of course, Russia has a habit of confounding those who try to predict what it 
will do next. Certainly, few people a decade ago could have imagined the 
course Russia has taken in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union 
in 1991. 

No one could have been that pessimistic. 

Those were giddy days when Russians threw off seven decades of totalitarian 
rule under the Communist Party. The opportunities seemed endless, the new 
world exciting and, surely, rewarding. 

Here are some of the results: 

Nearly four of every 10 Russians live below the official subsistence level, 
defined as an income below 829 rubles a month, the equivalent of about $34. 
In December 1991, only 11 percent were in that category. 

Inflation-adjusted personal income per capita is estimated at about 
one-fourth the level of 1991 and just over half that of four years ago. 

Russia's overall economic output this year is expected to be lower than that 
of Belgium, a country with 1-14th the population and 1-500th the land. 

Russia's population dropped by 401,000 people last year, continuing a decline 
that began seven years ago. During that time, the country has lost roughly 2 
million people, largely because alcoholism and stress have contributed to a 
rising death rate and people are having fewer children. 

Russia's homicide rate has become one of the world's highest, triple that of 
the United States and seven times as high as Germany's. 

The suicide rate is also more than triple that of the United States. Nearly 
one-quarter of all military deaths are by suicide. 

Life expectancy is now estimated at 60.8 years for men, up considerably from 
a low of 57.6 years in 1994, but still shockingly low for an industrial 

The average pension is 403 rubles - $17 - a month. 

The average monthly wage is 1,225 rubles - $51 - but millions go months or 
even years without getting paid at all. 

Between $50 billion and $250 billion is believed to have been illegally 
transferred to the West the past five years. That is at least twice as much 
as Russia's national budget of $25 billion for 1999. 

The list could go on and on. Tuberculosis rages in prisons. Organized crime 
has a stranglehold on entire regions of the country. 

Decaying nuclear submarines pose a horrific environmental threat; the risk of 
rogue scientists selling nuclear weapons or biological warfare technology 
terrifies many in the West. 

The Russian government just got to work on the Year 2000 computer bug this 
year, and predicts the nation's computers will have about a one in five 
chance of failing when the year changes. 

No wonder Russians are disappointed by their journey on the golden road to 

``They wanted the free market. They wanted liberalization. They wanted to 
live like in America,'' said Boris Kagarlitsky, a leftist political analyst 
with the Russian Academy of Sciences. ``I always say people were punished for 
their own stupidity.'' 

``It's like getting on a plane and being told you're embarking for America 
and when you take off you discover that you're actually going to Burkina Faso 
or some such place,'' he added. ``And at that point, you can't get off.'' 

Still, as disgusted as most Russians are by their country's decline, they 
retain a fierce love for it and an astonishing ability to shoulder its 
burdens and get on with their lives. 

In the ruggedly beautiful southern Siberian region of Buryatia, there is a 
group of homeless people who survive in some of the most awful conditions 
anywhere. They have carved a camp into the earth in a forest near a garbage 
dump, with crude wood-and-sheet metal shacks covering shallow caves dug in 
the ground. In these dank, smelly holes, they take shelter in winters that 
see temperatures sometimes plummet to minus 60 degrees. 

But there is Alexander Sokolov, a 43-year-old jobless electrical engineer who 
lives in one of the dugouts with his wife, Lara. Far from defeated by the 
twists that led him there, he is practically upbeat as he discusses the 
homeless camp's potential. 

``We have handy people. Our women can knit and sew, and we can make 
metalwork,'' he says enthusiastically. ``We need very little credit to start. 
We have a good team here.'' 

That attitude may be Russia's saving grace. Russians, whose historical memory 
encompasses the loss of more than 25 million people in World War II, know a 
thing or two about hardship, and they aren't easily panicked. 

``If you compare this to Indonesia, the Russian currency fell as much in a 
few weeks as the Indonesian currency fell in six months, and you had 
Indonesians rioting in the streets,'' noted Peter Westin, an economist at the 
Russian European Center for Economic Policy. 

Far from rioting, Russians scarcely protested when the ruble lost two-thirds 
of its value practically overnight. 

Of course, Westin said, the situation is more complicated than it might 
appear. For one thing, Russians retain some of the benefits of socialism. 
Most people live in heavily subsidized housing, or apartments they own. 
Utilities are cheap, health care and education are theoretically free, and 
many city dwellers own rural garden plots where they grow most of their 

That said, ``you shouldn't have the illusion that people think it's OK, 
because they don't,'' he said. But he added that Russians are ``very 
persistent'' and show remarkable adaptation skills. 

When Sergei Stepashin won parliamentary approval in May as Yeltsin's new 
prime minister, he seemed to express common yearnings for an ordered society, 
an end to uncertainties. 

``We're all united by pain for our motherland and our people and the wish to 
see our country finally become normal, civilized, rich, prosperous and 
decent,'' Stepashin said in his acceptance speech. 

And there are some glimmers of hope. 

In early July, Russia's monthly inflation was down to 1 percent and foreign 
currency reserves and tax collections were rising, the government said. 

Pensions and state workers' current wages were finally being paid on time, 
officials said, but many are still owed back payments - and the wages are too 
paltry to end deep poverty. 

The economic collapse may actually be stimulating the economy. Domestic 
production has begun to climb as consumers - who can no longer afford many 
imported goods - turn back to Russian-made products. 

In the old city of Kazan, the local tobacco company is winning back customers 
for its foul-smelling but cheap cigarettes, and the Kazan Macaroni Plant - 
which had been losing a battle to Turkish and Iranian imports - has found a 
new lease on life. Similar stories are being played out in cities and towns 
throughout the country. 

The real wild card now is politics. Yeltsin has clung to power despite 
serious health problems, a hostile parliament and a public that 
overwhelmingly dislikes him. In a recent poll, just 6 percent of the public 
approved of his performance in office - and that was up from earlier polls. 

With parliamentary elections scheduled later this year and presidential 
elections to be held sometime next year, the political forces in the country 
are jockeying for power. It's an ugly process, filled with scandal, backroom 
deals and endless intrigue. 

With the public disgusted by the path of economic reform and increasingly 
angry at the West, the situation seems ripe for an authoritarian, nationalist 
candidate who can promise to restore order and pride to the country. 

Some people warn darkly that Russia is headed toward the creation of a new 
Iron Curtain, a new dictatorship. Others believe that Russians, however angry 
about the country's economic mess, would never give up the democratic 
freedoms they now cherish. 

Kagarlitsky, the political analyst, sees the likelihood of a middle path - a 
semi-authoritarian, semi-leftist government. It would be, he says, ``a very 
imperfect democracy. But I think that's better than a good dictatorship.'' 


Primakov says centrists must unite to save Russia
By Martin Nesirky

MOSCOW, July 24 (Reuters) - Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said on 
Saturday Russia's centrist forces should unite and that a strong experienced 
president was needed to revive the country, but stopped short of saying he 
was the one for the job. 

In an interview on Moscow's TV-Tsentr, Primakov said he was thinking of 
standing for the State Duma lower house of parliament. He also condemned an 
``information war'' between media barons that has already broken out even 
though the parliamentary vote is not due until December. 

TV-Tsentr is a television station run by influential Moscow Mayor Yuri 
Luzhkov. The mayor, himself a potential presidential contender, said last 
week he considered Primakov suitable for the Kremlin job. 

President Boris Yeltsin sacked Primakov on May 12 after eight months in 
office. The 69-year-old former spy chief and foreign minister subsequently 
had a successful back operation in Switzerland and is now back in Moscow. 

Asked whether he planned to use his continued strong showing in popularity 
ratings, Primakov said: ``If I am in the political struggle, naturally like 
any other I will not use it, I will draw support from it.'' 

``I plan to work together with several politicians,'' he said. 

Primakov did not say which politicians he had in mind, but he listed 
Luzhkov's Fatherland grouping as one of the centrist forces he believed 
should unite to drag Russia out of crisis. 

``I favour the idea that healthy forces of the centre should unite,'' the 
ex-premier said. ``I believe this is the nucleus which can help transform the 
country and solve the many, many difficulties we face today.'' 

Former finance minister Anatoly Chubais told Ekho Moskvy radio station he 
thought Primakov would end up heading a centrist bloc. Chubais and others 
from the centre-right are trying to put together their own election alliance. 

In his television interview, Primakov praised Luzhkov but side-stepped the 
question of whether he would accept the mayor's offer to head the Fatherland 
party list in December's Duma vote. He said he was ``at the stage of 
thinking'' about standing. 

A Luzhkov-Primakov ticket would be powerful and position either well for the 
presidential election next year, when the ailing Yeltsin will step down. 

``I really hope that the next president of Russia is strong, but acts only 
within the framework of the law and uses all his strength and experience to 
serve the people and solve the task of raising their standard of living,'' 
Primakov said. 

He said Russia's future as a world power and unified state depended on this. 
But again he did not say who he had in mind. 

Earlier, in the Russian Far East port city of Vladivostok, Primakov's 
successor Sergei Stepashin said he did not plan to run for the presidency. 
Other potential contenders include Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov and 
liberal parliamentarian Grigory Yavlinsky. 

Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, no longer the serious player he once 
was, suffered a further setback in his efforts to win an automatic seat in 
the Federation Council upper house by securing a regional governorship. 

Electoral officials in the Urals region of Sverdlovsk barred him from running 
for governor because more than 2,000 signatures on his application were 
forged. Zhirinovsky vowed to purge the local party if the officials were 
proved right. 


Russian calls U.S. ties stable despite Yugoslavia

WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - The relationship between Washington and 
Moscow is stable despite the ``serious damage'' caused by the war in 
Yugoslavia, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said in an interview 
released on Saturday on the eve of his first visit to the United States. 

But Moscow's relationship with NATO is at an ``impasse,'' the Russian leader 
told Newsweek magazine. ``We are very concerned with NATO expansion 
eastward,'' he said. 

Stepashin's comments, in the Aug. 2 edition of Newsweek, were released on the 
eve of his departure on Sunday for a three-day visit to the United States, 
his first since becoming prime minister. 

The visit also is a first by a Russian prime minister since then Prime 
Minister Yevgeny Primakov turned his plane around over the Atlantic Ocean on 
March 23 after being informed that NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia were 

The 78-day bombing campaign pushed U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest 
level since the Cold War until Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin 
broke the ice at a G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany, last month. 

Stepashin, 47, told Newsweek he hoped to discuss economic matters, the 
reconstruction of Yugoslavia, and the ABM and SALT II missile treaties when 
he met Vice President Al Gore and other members of the Clinton 

Stepashin, who had a number of telephone conversations with Gore during the 
conflict over Kosovo, said he would be meeting the vice president for the 
first time and hoped to build on the relationship they had developed by 

The magazine asked Stepashin whether the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO had 
caused serious damage to U.S.-Russian diplomatic ties. 

``No doubt serious damage has been done,'' he said. ``However, I believe that 
our relationship is stable and can't be shattered even by the war in 

``We should draw lessons from Yugoslavia,'' he added. ``If we are partners, 
and we are serious partners, we should respect each other's positions and 
strive for compromise before military action begins.'' 

Stepashin hoped to receive $4.5 billion in loans from the International 
Monetary Fund during the visit and expected a sympathetic hearing on debt 
talks from the White House, which was anxious to get bilateral relations back 
on track. 

He expressed optimism about the direction of the Russian economy. 

``I am fully convinced that between now and the end of next year, Russia will 
not see any major economic and financial shocks because of the work of my 
government,'' he said. ``Our primary task for the long term is to develop a 
free and attractive investment climate.'' 

Stepashin expressed ``deep condolences'' to the Kennedy family over the death 
of John F. Kennedy Jr., killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the 
ocean off Martha's Vineyard on July 16. His wife and sister-in-law also died 
in the crash. 

``Russians are very nostalgic about the Kennedys,'' Stepashin said. ``And we 
are very sorry that such a good young man died so senselessly.'' 


Washington Post
25 July 1999
[for personal use only]
In Russia, Limited Visibility
Freer, But No More Secure in Leadership, Statistics or Tomorrow
By Robert G. Kaiser
Robert Kaiser, The Post's Moscow correspondent from 1971 to 1974, recently 
returned from a month-long reporting trip to Russia. 

MOSCOW—Nearly eight years since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Russia 
has earned a lousy reputation. Its government is a stumblebum operation, run 
by a barely functioning president trusted by 3 percent (that is not a typo) 
of his countrymen, according to the polls. Its economy is a disaster. 
Russia's criminals have proven more resourceful and effective than its 
politicians, many of whom have turned out to be criminals. The price of a 
vote in the Duma, the national parliament, is reliably described as $30,000 
on a big issue such as the impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin, who 
apparently was saved from this fate in May by quite a few $30,000 payments.

It's easy to paint a bloodcurdling picture of Russia in 1999, a nation 
plagued by gangs and drugs, poisoned by ecological degradation and reeling 
from a chronic health crisis. This Russia lacks strong civic institutions, a 
reliable physical infrastructure and the basic tools that would make possible 
a real market economy, starting with banks and enforceable contracts.

All of this is true--and yet it isn't the whole truth. Things are awful, and 
yet not so bad. Life is uncertain here, and yet often fun. It's easy to list 
the society's ills, but there are also palpable signs of better health: 
Russian culture is enjoying a renaissance, a new generation of entrepreneurs 
is making tangible headway in altering the economy, young people are rushing 
to master the skills that can make them effective participants in a free 
Russian marketplace of ideas as well as goods. Russians are getting used to 
freedom, and they like it.

Despite all the disruptions caused by a sloppy transition from communism to 
something else, this is still Russia, the largest country on Earth, home to 
millions of talented people and enormous natural wealth, nurturer of great 
art, great history, great humanity. It can't be written off after a difficult 
decade or two, or even after a lost century, which is how the 20th may look 
to Russian historians a hundred years from now.

A month's visit here after several years' absence is a startling experience 
because so much is changing so fast. Arbitrarily separated from the rest of 
the world for most of their history, Russians have managed, in a few years, 
to wipe away many of the distinctive attributes that so recently 
distinguished them from us. They dress with some personal flair, freely 
express their opinions, dance all night in lively nightclubs--well, some of 
the younger ones do--and read serious, unstilted journalism. Life on the 
streets of big cities looks calm and quite prosperous by Russian standards.

The simplest truth about Russia is that it cannot be summarized with any 
simple truism. There are now thousands of Russian realities, from the glitzy 
sheen of wealthy "new Russians" in Moscow's countless casinos to the 
primitive poverty of remote villages; from the corruption of everyday life (a 
non-driver can buy a driver's license for $500, a terrifying thought in a 
city where horrific traffic accidents are common) to the many orthodox 
churches being restored and filled with music and prayer across the country. 
The steady erosion of central authority has created much more room for 
different local realities in Russia's regions.

Another simple but perplexing truth about this Russia: Much of its reality is 
hidden from view. Intellectuals talk and write about Russia's "shadow 
society." The shadows start at the top: Yeltsin acts behind a thick curtain 
of mystery and intrigue. Many Russians are convinced that their president is 
really out of it now--so ill and disoriented that he rarely, if ever, plays a 
meaningful part in the nation's affairs.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, a political consultant whose office displays two 
certificates of appreciation from Yeltsin for helping him in his 1996 
reelection campaign, said in a recent conversation: "I don't think Yeltsin is 
capable of making any kind of decision." Nikonov agrees with the widespread 
view that the country is being run by a circle of people around Yeltsin 
including his daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko; the chief of his presidential 
administration, Alexander Voloshin; two of the dubious financial oligarchs so 
influential here, Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich; and Valentin 
Yumashev, the ghostwriter of Yeltsin's memoirs and his former chief of staff.

Many Russians who follow politics closely are bemused by the efforts of 
Western leaders, particularly President Clinton and his staff, to pretend 
that Yeltsin is still capable of participating in sophisticated decision 
making. Their skepticism seems justified. Yeltsin's public performances are 
stiff, clumsy and apparently disconnected from reality. He looks bloated and 
unsteady on his feet. He has gone off on weird tangents in meetings and 
public appearances. His troops showed up uninvited in Kosovo, and it isn't 
clear what role, if any, he played in sending them there.

It is difficult to imagine a free society in which politics and politicians 
are utterly discredited, but today's Russia is precisely that. Indeed, there 
is no tangible connection between politicians and the public--a monument to 
the failure so far to construct a functioning civil society.

The shadow society exists well beyond politics. Ask Dmitri Malko, 28, for 
example, how he launched Le Club, a large and comfortable jazz venue on 
Moscow's Taganka Square. He explains: "Some friends and I put some money 
together and opened the club." Right. And does he pay off a "roof"--someone 
who provides protection for the club? "Everyone does. You sign a contract 
with a security company and they take care of everything. It's official now. 
I like that." According to other businessmen, "official" is indeed the 
correct word, since various police agencies now hire themselves out as roofs. 
Malko did not offer up the identity of his roof.

In the modern world, statistics are a basic tool of measurement, but any 
reliance on Russian statistics is dangerous. Andrei Melville, vice president 
of the Russian Academy of Social Sciences, said emphatically that statistics 
gathered in today's Russia are meaningless. "You can't believe anything" 
described with a statistic, he said. This may explain why no projection of 
famine and disaster since 1991 has ever proven accurate. It certainly helps 
explain why a country that is--at least statistically--reeling from an 
economic crisis looks to a visitor like it's doing pretty well, especially 
when compared with how it looked under communist rule 10, 15 or 25 years ago.

Another reason for the limited utility of statistics is that they don't take 
into account the Russians' ancient skill of coping with difficulty. Today's 
hardships don't seem so harsh in comparison with the terrors of the 1930s, 
the devastation and privation of World War II, or even the long lines and 
frustrations of the 1980s.

Why has the transition from communism been so difficult for Russia? There are 
scores of good answers--another reflection of the complexity of Russian 
realities. The best ones are connected to enduring truths that can't be swept 
away in just eight years.

Russians themselves often underestimate the degree to which the Soviet system 
damaged this country. Under communism, Russians built a strange sort of 
primitive industrialized society, at huge cost. The structure could not 
survive market conditions.

In 74 years of communism, virtually no Russian mastered market economics. No 
one was prepared to cope with post-communist opportunities the way, for 
example, Leszek Balcerowicz, the mastermind of economic reform in Poland, has 
ushered his country to capitalist prosperity as finance minister and now as 
deputy prime minister. Russian politicians, emphatically including Mikhail 
Gorbachev and Yeltsin, have been clueless about economics.

But the best economists could not have made Soviet enterprises fit for 
free-market conditions. How could they? The Soviet-era managers of those 
enterprises knew nothing about managing in a market economy; workers used to 
goofing off and shirking responsibility weren't prepared to adapt to the 
market, either. Soviet technology and infrastructure were utterly inadequate. 
The failure of the Soviet system was largely responsible for Gorbachev's 
ascent to power in 1985, but he did not fix it. He abandoned it.

It took communists nearly three-quarters of a century to ruin this country; 
it will take their successors a long time to overcome their accomplishments. 
"We were completely unprepared . . . for this change from 'fundamentalist 
socialism' to a real, contemporary, civilized existence," observed Yevgeni 
Velikhov, a distinguished nuclear physicist. Russia's adaptation to modern, 
civilized conditions was rudely interrupted in 1917, he argued--the year the 
communists took power and ended a brief period in which Russia had begun to 
industrialize and modernize.

Proud Russians have found it difficult to acknowledge that they are far, far 
behind the industrialized West. But some are coming to realize this. "My 
grandson will live to see a healthy Russia," said Alexander Bovin, 70, a 
columnist for Izvestia who was Russia's ambassador to Israel through most of 
the '90s.

One source of Russia's difficulties can be found in the distinction between 
"freedom" and "democracy." This Russia is remarkably free, but it is not a 
functioning democracy. The freedom is invigorating, much appreciated by 
millions of Russians, and a vast improvement over the regimentation of the 
Soviet Union. But elemental freedom from arbitrary power does not lead to 
honest and effective government.

What the Russians have now is a kind of democratic monarchism. The elected 
monarch is harassed by a mostly powerless parliament. The constitution 
Yeltsin persuaded his countrymen to adopt in 1993 gave him vast, unchecked 
powers. It gave the parliament such a small role to play that there was no 
hope of developing strong political parties ready to share responsibility for 
governing. The judiciary is ineffectual, so the rule of law does not yet 

The architects of this structure call themselves democrats, so a great many 
Russians have decided they don't want democracy. Both democracy and free 
markets have gotten a bad name among ordinary Russians--though neither has 
really been tried here.

Even so, Russians have decided that they appreciate the right to vote. 
Election turnouts here are larger than in the United States. In political 
circles, it is generally assumed that a new Duma will be chosen in elections 
scheduled late this year, and that a new president will be voted into office 
next year. The Russian people expect these elections to occur, and expect the 
results to be respected. This constitutes progress: In 1996, many Russian 
politicians feared that Yeltsin would try somehow to annul the scheduled 
presidential election.

Many political figures here favor substantial revisions to the constitution 
that would limit presidential power and enhance the Duma's authority. That 
would be an important start, but implanting a democratic system with checks 
and balances, civic institutions, accountability for senior officials and a 
meaningful rule of law will require much more. This is a society familiar 
only with the Big Man form of government, which has prevailed here literally 
for centuries. Choosing that man in a free election is revolutionary, but it 
doesn't constitute democracy.

Learning to share power and tolerate opponents won't come easily to Russians. 
Nor will honesty and truthfulness, two values that have never had much 
resonance here. Russians cherish human warmth, generosity, hospitality. But 
rigorous honesty, especially outside one's circle of friends and family, has 
been less important.

"There is no pressure on a Russian to be honest," said Tatyana Tolstaya, a 
novelist who recently moved back to Russia after years in the United States. 
"Most of our people don't want to be honest." She traces this condition back 
to the long epoch of serfdom in Russia, when the law of the land formally 
denied the humanity and individuality of most Russians. Serfs learned to 
assert their sense of self by stealing, she said.

This Russia is a struggling country of 147 million souls (deaths outnumber 
births, so the number is steadily declining). The Russian federal budget for 
1999 is the equivalent of about $25 billion, slightly more than the U.S. 
government will spend this year on food stamps. Numbers like this at least 
begin to describe the extent of Russia's fall from superpower status. On the 
other hand, the budget is just another unreliable statistic. Costs in Russia 
are so low (many people work for $20 to $40 a month) that the money goes 
further than in more normal economies. Nevertheless, Russia is desperately 

Russians have survived eight years of changes without significant help from 
their leaders, who have shied away from any direct discussion of Russia's 
fate. Neither Yeltsin nor any other national leader has helped Russians 
articulate their plight and consider the best ways to deal with it. The 
communists--who constitute the biggest political bloc, with the support of 
perhaps 20 percent of the population--have abandoned Soviet communism and now 
have no ideology. No great book on Russia's fate has been published, though 
some writers have struggled with the theme. A few intellectuals have reopened 
the ancient discussion about "What is Russia?" but without much of an 
audience. On the biggest question facing the country, Russians are mostly 

This silence is symbolized by the Duma's struggle to agree on a new national 
anthem. It has chosen an old tune, but hasn't settled on any words to be sung 
to it.

As the Russians continue their great experiment, many will be tempted to 
predict the future. Those who feel this urge might take a cue from the 
typical Russian weather forecast. In the morning, radio weathermen here 
foresee conditions for today, no further. At night, the television weather 
report foresees tomorrow, but not beyond.


US Ambassador Views Russia Relations 

Argumenty i Fakty, No. 29
1 July 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Exclusive interview with James Collins, ambassador extraordinary and 
plenipotentiary of the United States in the Russian Federation, by 
Yelizaveta Shtayger; place and date not given: "Wealthy America Needs a 
Wealthy Russia" 

[Shtayger] You recently celebrated your 60th 
birthday in Moscow. Telegrams from President Clinton and Secretary of 
State Albright noted that you are helping them to understand Russia and 
to build relations with our country. How are you managing in the 
kaleidoscope of Russian events to track that which is important? 
[Collins] I believe that the choice is determined by our overriding
at each specific moment. If we look at what took up my time in the past 
year, these were matters of our security and, specifically, problems 
having to do with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and 
missile technology and arms reduction. The new system of European 
security also. And, of course, the crisis in Kosovo and the search for 
ways out of this serious test for our relationship. 
Certainly, I was also preoccupied with the situation in the economy
the August crisis. I had to constantly transmit to Washington an analysis 
of what was happening. We worked hard to promote a successful dialogue 
between Russia and the IMF in order to adjust your relations with your 
creditors. All this is exceptionally important for Russia's continued 
development and for our relations. 
[Shtayger] What's your assessment of these relations today? 
[Collins] I believe that the relations of Russia and the United States are 
basically good because they are based on a wide spectrum of interests. 
The reality is that today we share one and the same principles: human 
rights and democracy. There is a common understanding of the fact that 
each individual is entitled to respect for his dignity and the 
development of his capabilities. This constitutes the foundation of our 
relations and makes them of a high quality. 
It is for this reason that we can on the threshold of the next century 
together set about the constructive accomplishment of key objectives in a 
spirit of cooperation and find ways of overcoming disagreements. Our 
societies have been drawn into a "flow" that is unprecedented for this 
century. Approximately 25,000 Russians have visited the United States on 
official exchange programs of the US Government alone in the past six 
years, and thousands of Americans have come here. These figures are 

China Factor 

[Shtayger] In a report entitled "The World Without Russia?" delivered in 
Washington recently the American political scientist Thomas Graham 
reached a number of conclusions as to why Russia's long-term weakness 
would be disadvantageous to the United States. These included the 
following: a strong Russia could moderate the ambitions of China and a 
number of nondemocratic regimes in Asia. Do you agree? And what, in your 
opinion, is the geopolitical future of China, where today more than 1 
billion persons live and where in the not-too-distant future the 
population will have increased by a further 300 million? 
[Collins] Speaking of geopolitical stability as a whole, I would like first 
of all to quote what my president has had to say. He emphasizes constantly 
that it is in the United States's interests for Russia to be a strong, 
prosperous democratic country. A weak unpredictable Russia is a potential 
source of instability in Europe and Asia. And we have an interest here, 
it seems to me, both from the viewpoint of global stability and from the 
viewpoint of our relations with Russia. 
As far as Asia is concerned, the appearance of such a power as China 
will, possibly, be a determining factor for the future of this region. I 
believe, and the US Government thinks likewise, that it is important for 
us to ensure durable, constructive, and predictable relations with China. 
But there is one essential point that I would like to make: both in the 
present and, particularly, in the past there have been attempts by 
certain political scientists in this country to reduce the relations of 
Russia, China, and the United States to a "zero-sum scenario," that is, 
if the United States establishes good relations with one of these 
countries, problems will inevitably arise with the other. 
We reject this approach, we believe, on the contrary, that it is very 
important for Russia and China to have good stable relations with each 
other. And to contribute for the sake of this to the stability, 
development, and future prosperity of the Asian region.... 

A 'Unipolar' World and Global Security 

[Shtayger] And how justified, in your opinion, is the existence of a 
world, where one country--the United States--is predominant and could be 
the "arbiter of the fate" of other peoples? The above-mentioned report of 
Thomas Graham surmises that a "tripolar" world of the United States, 
Europe, and Russia would be potentially more stable. 
[Collins] I am not a great believer in "poles," I am not a supporter. It 
would seem to me that the need to develop a system of institutions and 
relations capable of effectively resolving conflicts and disagreements 
will arise in the future. 
Take the Asian economic crisis. The fact that it was echoed almost 
instantly in Russia and then spread to Brazil is an eloquent indication 
that global economic connections are a reality. It is not as important, 
to create "poles," therefore, as to have good connections and to manage 
them skillfully. 
My understanding of world security is quite simple: do people feel 
protected in their everyday life, in society, or are they under threat 
and unsure of the future. For the past 50 years the protection has 
consisted of a buildup of arms and the development of technology. These 
processes were directed by the Soviet system here and the alliance led by 
the United States in the West. Directing this is now far more complex 
since missile technology has proliferated around the world. We are faced 
with a new reality, which cannot be ignored. The nuclear tests in Asia 
are an example. 
[Shtayger] The US Congress recently sent for the president's signature an
on the deployment of a national missile defense system. Will it not wreck 
the ABM Treaty signed by the USSR and the United States back in 1972, on 
which strategic stability and the entire disarmament process has been 
built for many years? 
[Collins] The brief answer is no. But it is equally the case that Russia
the United States will in the coming decades be faced with the need to 
revise many mutual agreements in order to adapt them to the new 
As far as the United States is concerned, we know that some countries 
that are hostile toward us are building up their potential for a possible 
attack on the territory of the United States with ballistic missiles. It 
is a question of what we should do. Congress and the administration have 
agreed that the most correct action is to find a way of deploying a 
limited missile defense system, which would be a response to this threat. 
In its present form the 1972 treaty provides for the possibility of the 
deployment of such a system. But this is only part of the treaty. There 
is a whole number of issues that need to be settled. 
It is necessary to revise the ABM Treaty, but primarily to find ways of 
preserving it. Since our government and the president agree with your 
government and president that this treaty is the basis of the strategic 
relationship between our countries and, even more, has global stature. 
At the same time, on the other hand, we do not think that the treaty 
will remain useful to both parties unless it affords both of them an 
opportunity to defend themselves in the event of a new threat emerging. 
We have said clearly that we want to cooperate with the Russian 
Government and to rewrite the treaty in such a way as to preserve its 
strategic significance. After all, when it was being concluded and at the 
time of its subsequent completion there were no ballistic missiles in 
third countries. Things are different now. 

Reciprocal Trade Difficulties 

[Shtayger] Let's talk about the economy. President Clinton and US officials 
have said repeatedly that America needs a stable and wealthy Russia. At 
the same time, on the other hand, the transnational companies are denying 
our goods an opportunity to penetrate the American market. We know, for 
example, what is happening with Russian steel. Russia's trade turnover 
with the United States is paltry if compared with Russia's trade turnover 
with Italy or Germany. Do you not see a serious contradiction between 
word and deed here? 
[Collins] I would like in answering this question to note first of all that 
Russia's trade with the United States affords your country advantages. So 
the talk to the effect that the Americans are deriving some exceptional 
benefit from it is mistaken. 
Further, our reciprocal trade today is not at all what it could be. At the 
same time, when it is a matter of entirely particular commodities--and 
their quantity is, believe me, extremely negligible--the press makes an 
incredible noise, as was the case with Russian steel. Steel retired from 
the markets of Asia and other regions owing to the economic downturn. 
Russia was not the only country in this respect: Japan, Brazil, and other 
countries also began deliveries to the American market since it could 
support them. The growing imports began to destabilize this market. And 
our manufacturers, naturally, sounded the alarm and demanded a certain 
level of predictability on their own market. 
Such cases, although they apply to very few commodities, require 
attention. We performed a lot of work on an agreement ensuring that 
Russian steel take its place on the American market. The compromise 
agreement that was reached will give Russian and American manufacturers 
and workers a stable, predictable basis for future trade. 
But there is another side to the problem also. Russia exports to the 
world market products of competitive price and quality. These have thus 
far been raw material and semi-manufactured goods: oil, gas, aluminum, 
fertilizer components, and so forth. The task for Russia is to modernize 
its industry in order to become competitive in the manufacture of the end 
product. This is a question of investments and the reconstruction of 
production capacity. It remains a fact that there is none of this as yet 
in many spheres of industry, this is why Russian products cannot compete 
successfully with Western products. 
We are trying to stimulate changes that will attract investors and 
modernize production so that Russia might become a full-fledged player on 
the world market. This is in many cases an economically, politically, and 
socially painful process. It means complex and difficult decisions. But 
these are the decisions that have to be made as soon as possible. 
[Shtayger] Does this mean that the United States really needs not a poor
a rich and flourishing Russia? 
[Collins] The idea that we need a weak and poor Russia is utterly without 
foundation. If Russia is poor, it will not be an attractive market for 
us, will not be attractive for investors. If it is weak and unstable, the 
entire region will be unstable. Our interests presuppose the existence of 
a strong, prosperous, and predictable partner with which we can 
cooperate. This does not mean that we will have no disagreements. There 
will always be disagreements. But it is much easier to work with a 
partner who is self-assured and capable of making decisions on the basis 
of equality. 

'Harvard Boys' and Transatlantic Influence 

[Shtayger] People are of the opinion here that many decisions in the sphere 
of the economy and policy of Russia are dictated by the West. And that such 
politicians as Yavlinskiy and Chubays are "conduits" of a pro-American 
policy. Now the position of treasury secretary will be held by Lawrence 
Summers, who built the United States's economic relations with Russia 
with an orientation toward the Gaydar-team of young reformers, who are 
called here "Harvard boys". What can you say about this? 
[Collins] I myself attended Harvard so "Harvard boy" sounds to me like a 
compliment. Seriously, though, I have heard a great deal of talk about 
the fact that some people from across the Atlantic are able to dictate 
something or other here. This is simply absurd. I am well acquainted with 
many of the so-called "pro-American" politicians personally, as with 
leaders of the opposition also. They want only good things for their 
country, in my opinion. But it is Russians who must decide who will 
pursue the best policy. And it seems to me that you have a great deal of 
experience: you have lived a large part of this century under one system 
and have tried out the alternative over the past several years. And I 
believe that you yourselves are entitled to judge, which is more 
You have many people who are criticizing what is happening here. The 
criticism is largely justified: some of the ideas proposed by Americans 
or Europeans or some others have not been justified here. But I believe 
that the main reality remains the fact that Russians made their choice in 
1991-1992. They confirmed it when they adopted the new constitution. The 
vast majority of them have taken part in democratic elections and will do 
so once again in December 1999 and in June of the year 2000. I believe 
that all Americans are interested in Russians continuing to make 
decisions in their own interests and electing the leaders who will 
reflect these interests the most fully. 
Everyone understands how difficult it is to transform a totalitarian--in
not-too-distant past--state with a command system of government into a 
state that will effectively and openly compete in the world arena and 
become a full member of the democratic community. It is this that compels 
us to support a continuation of the economic reforms in Russia, whose 
implementation should bring your people to prosperity. 
[Shtayger] In what specifically, in your opinion, might Russo-American 
cooperation in the coming decade be expressed? What are the most 
important tasks? 
[Collins] From the security viewpoint we will have to take a new look at
traditional military technology since the world has become more complex. 
And the idea that the United States could do this on its own is simply 
misplaced. There are also such problems as organized crime and the spread 
of narcotics. This is a comparatively recent phenomenon here, my country 
has quite extensive and bitter experience in this connection. We face 
problems of the environment, which are becoming increasingly significant 
for the future. The problem of water resources: how to obtain clean 
water. We must prevent the spread of disease against which conventional 
drugs are powerless. 
It is very important for us to have partners who can work effectively 
on this. But poor economies and poor governments cannot be good partners. 
Strong democratic governments, which display concern for their citizens, 
are needed for tackling such complex tasks. 

The Enigmatic Russian Soul 

[Shtayger] You did a practical-training stint at Moscow State University, 
in the very thick of Russians, and know them well. Can you explain what 
is meant by the "enigmatic Russian soul"? 
[Collins] I came here for the first time in 1965. I have been here three 
since then. But the longer that I have been in your country, the less I 
am convinced that I understand it. 
But I have in my heart great respect for the talent, creative potential, 
and steadfastness of your people. The most important thing that I observe 
here is Russians' growing demand for the same rights and respect for 
human dignity as their contemporaries in Europe and other democratic 
countries. Russians already enjoy such rights: they travel freely and can 
hear and read what they want. And, as I see for myself in traveling 
around your country, these values are important to people. The younger 
generation of Russians, it seems to me, is endeavoring to develop its 
capabilities and perform its own role in society. I observe how your 
people are everywhere finding opportunities to cope with the difficult 
economic situation and to make their life acceptable. The spirit that 
ensures survival is very strong here. I do not tire of explaining to my 
colleagues in Washington, therefore, that Russia is working out its own 
path in order to respond to the challenges of the times and it knows how 
to do this very cleverly. And although, like any country, Russia is not 
protected against the impact of processes in the world economy, it will 
not always act exactly according to the standard that has come here from 
outside. And the talents and abilities of your country cannot be denied. 
[Shtayger] The musical evenings at Spaso House, where we are talking--are 
a tribute to tradition or your personal predilection since you yourself 
used to play the violin well? 
[Collins] Oh, this was long ago.... I find that a good musical evening
people together and affords a reason to come here. Russo-American 
contacts should not be confined merely to politics and economics. 
Cultural and civic ties are no less important. As far as I can, 
therefore, I use this building to support these aspects of our relations 


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