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Johnson's Russia List
27 July 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Independent (UK): Helen Womack, Street Life - An optimist's guide
to Russia: Part one.
2. Washington Post: Boris Fyodorov, Loans to Russia? A Russian
3. Reuters: Russia's Ivanov warns U.S. of new arms race.
4. The Guardian (UK): David Hearst, Email from Moscow.
5. Dennis Whelan: New policy on student visas?
6. Alexander Yanov: Open Letter to Colleagues in the West.
7. AP: Russian Premier Seeks Investors.]
The Independent (UK)
27 July 1999
[for personal use only]
Street Life - An optimist's guide to Russia: Part one
By Helen Womack
I always set out with high hopes on the roads of Russia. In this vast
country, it seems, there is so much to be discovered. Never mind that every
past journey has been tinged with toska or melancholy yearning. Next time I
am sure to come to the Promised Land.
Thus, in hope, I set off from Samotechny Lane last week on the M7 to
Vladimir, 120 miles east of Moscow. In the 19th century, when prisoners
walked for months down this road to exile in Siberia, begging for alms as
they went, it was the highway to Hell, effectively a sentence of death. But
times have changed.
My cherry red Niva or Russian jeep bounced merrily over the potholes as I
passed fields of sunflowers and settlements with quaint Communist names
like Red Electrician. Impatient Mercedes drivers, hurrying to their cottagi
(new brick mansions), overtook me on the inside. The narrow road became the
slow lane, the ditch became the overtaking lane. Suddenly, we were all
driving on the left, like in England. It was anarchy.
By and by, we came to Petushki, immortalised in Veniamin Yerofeyev's comic
novel of the Brezhnev era, Moskva-Petushki. It is about a boozer from
Petushki, who travels to the capital to see the sights but ends up in the
buffet of Kursky railway station, drunk again. It is a symbol of the
hopelessness of Russian life.
By the side of the road in the real Petushki, some drivers were having a
picnic. Vodka bottles were arranged on the bonnet of a car. They were
drinking the vodka from plastic cups. They were going to drink it all and
then get back into their vehicles. Corrupt as they are, there are times
when one should give thanks for the Russian traffic police.
I decided to rest, too. I did not fancy the kvas (drink from fermented
bread) from the fetid roadside barrels or the delights of the Cafe
Kormilitsa (Breast-feeding woman). Instead, I plunged into the forest, dry
as tinder after the heatwave, and picked a handful of wild raspberries, in
exchange for which I donated what seemed like a pint of blood to the
Further down the road, I bought some more of these wild raspberries from an
old woman. She had spent all day in the infested forest, picking them. She
was selling them for four roubles per glass. I bought five glasses and
still I had spent about 60p. She cried with gratitude, saying that at last
she could afford bread.
Along its length, the road was lined with traders desperate to make a sale.
Every village offered the same bizarre wares - towels decorated with the
face of Marilyn Monroe, giant toy tigers, popcorn, electric fans and rubber
boats, although there was no water in sight. Suddenly the skies opened and
the villagers rushed to cover their goods, imported from China and brought
here by the Moscow Mafia.
When the Russians brought down Communism, they carried placards speaking of
"70 years on the road to nowhere". After the experiment with capitalism,
they are still on the road, seeking a turning to somewhere.
My car lurched. The strip of asphalt on which I had felt confident to raise
my speed came to an abrupt end and without warning I was back on lunar
craters. Ahead, were the wrecks of a BMW and a Lada that had been in a
head-on collision. The BMW driver was alive but I did not give much for the
chances of those in the more vulnerable car.
The ambulance would come. I drove on. On, past a town called Gus Krystalny
(Crystal Goose), where the glass-factory workers had been paid in kind.
They were standing by the roadside, their chandeliers hanging up for sale
in the branches of trees.
On through Pokrov (the Virgin's Veil), with its sleazy motel, and the towns
of Noginsk and Lakinsk. All over Russia these shabby, inconsequential
places are indistinguishable, with their war memorials, their chicken-coop
apartment blocks, their rusty garages, their gardens with cabbage and
phlox. Irreverent Muscovites call them Perdyulinsk (Fartville) and
I was leaving them behind. The belching lorries and buzzing motorcycles
thinned out and I emerged on to a plain of golden cornfields, lined with
silver birch. On the horizon, glinted the domes of the ancient city of
Suzdal. My destination. The New Jerusalem.
This was a city of the greatest nobility. Yet, its story too is a tale of
Russian toska. Of wasted opportunity. Of endless sadness. I will tell it in
the next episode of The Eternal Optimist's Guide to Russia.
27 July 1999
[for personal use only]
Loans to Russia? A Russian 'Nyet'
By Boris Fyodorov
The writer is a former finance minister of Russia.
MOSCOW—For the past six years our governments have been living from one
International Monetary Fund infusion to the next. In the first stage we are
short of money and hold hasty talks with the IMF. Next, we receive the money
with after considerable difficulty. Then we forget our promises, get into a
crisis and ask for money again.
The Russian authorities have learned the craft of pulling the wool over the
eyes of the West, and the West has learned to pretend not to notice it. For
political reasons, the West periodically tosses money at us. The main idea is
to keep us quiet and non-threatening. The West does not believe that any
economic reforms are underway in Russia, and so it simply aims at producing
the appearance of decency with the help of the IMF missions and negotiations.
It should be recognized honestly that we have lost six years, increased our
debt by $20 billion to the international financial organizations alone and
have completely failed to conduct reforms. And now we ask to write off part
of the debts. We want to get new credits, but in fact we are not planning to
reform anything. Yet another gift of charity from the West does not solve a
single problem apart from producing the overall image of something positive
going on. Is this worth increasing our debt?
The problem of our budget consists of collecting taxes and other debts. This
requires strong fiscal bodies and a true tax reform -- that is, the
establishing of order. At the same time, we cannot have a realistic budget,
because no one in Russia can predict the level of inflation or the currency
rate. It is impossible to expect that economic activity will grow under the
current conditions of instability and lack of encouragement. The circle
Still, with today's level of federal revenues we have no funds for the army,
law-enforcement bodies, education or health care. It becomes increasingly
obvious that the state is falling apart and is not coping normally with its
most elementary functions. Periodic financial injections from the West delay
only slightly the need to take decisions that are a matter of principle.
This is how we have been living since the days of Mikhail Gorbachev: They
give us money for reforms, and we immediately lose motivation to conduct
these reforms. Fighting corruption, tax and pension reforms, restructuring of
industry, eradication of the system of barter and nonpayments, unemployment,
agrarian problems -- all these issues and many other questions must be
resolved today. But this calls for the political will to stop seeing things
in terms of "surviving another week, holding on for another month."
The new government has been in charge for two months now, and it still has no
economic program of its own. We hear nothing apart from words about
continuation of the course of Yevgeny Primakov, who did not have a program
either. The attempts to formally satisfy the IMF demands resemble the
attempts of a schoolboy to make the quiz results match the table at the end
of the textbook.
One cannot help seeing the dead-end nature of today's situation. If it hadn't
been for the four-fold devaluation of the ruble and the increase of oil
prices, our country would be standing on the brink of a crash. Today we get
gigantic profits from exports, but we do not collect taxes and do not pay our
debts. The shadow economy is at least equal to the legal one, capital flight
is measured in billions of dollars, and the amount of cash dollars
circulating in Russia is several times larger than the overall ruble mass.
Had we had a reasonable economic policy, we would be able to repay all the
foreign debts and to build up the budget.
I am certain that the prime minster should address the IMF and reject any new
credits until the moment when we have a real plan of action and have started
carrying it out. In a similar situation in August 1993, as the finance
minister, I refused to receive an allotment of the IMF loan, and I am proud
of it. The shame should be on those who dragged Russia into a debt dungeon.
Getting new credits today is absolutely against the national interests of
Russia's Ivanov warns U.S. of new arms race
BONN, July 27 (Reuters) - The United States and NATO risk provoking a new
nuclear arms race with Moscow if they seek to impose their will on the rest
of the world, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted on Tuesday as
``I hope it won't come to that,'' he told the German weekly news magazine
Stern, repeating Russia's opposition to the surviving Cold War superpower
adopting the role of ``world policeman.''
``It would only lead to new tensions, to a new arms race, to nuclear
deterrence. It would mean being permanently on the brink of war,'' he said,
adding that Russia was ready to take ``military measures'' in response to
any expansion of NATO.
The interview appeared as Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin began an official
visit to Washington to try to repair relations after Moscow's angry
opposition to NATO's attack on Yugoslavia.
Ivanov's tone in the Stern interview sounded harsher than the one he
adopted after talks in Singapore on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright on the fringes of an Association of South East Asian
Asked by Stern how Russia would respond to the further expansion of North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership to other former Soviet bloc states
following this year's admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic,
Ivanov said Russia had no right to prevent its former satellites from
But he went on: ``Should Russia's interest be seriously threatened, we will
adopt all necessary measures -- including military ones -- to ensure her
Asked what military moves he was thinking of, Ivanov said Moscow could
change its military doctrine and redeploy troops. Russia, like the NATO
allies, is bound in its deployment of troops by the Cold War-era
Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, although both sides are seeking
to amend it.
Asked whether a change in doctrine could mean increasing reliance on
nuclear weapons as Russia trimmed back its large conscript army, Ivanov
told Stern: ``Our army remains capable of action. We are against the
nuclear arms race but naturally nuclear weapons play a key role in our
Russia insists that the United Nations Security Council, on which Moscow
holds one of five permanent seats with the power of veto, retain a monopoly
on the legitimate use of force against states and strongly criticised NATO
for circumventing that principle in its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
``Can it be allowed that a couple of countries which have set up an elite
club should order all the rest about?'' Ivanov said.
The Guardian (UK)
26 July 1999
[for personal use only]
Email from Moscow
By David Hearst
The scene beside the Moscow river yesterday could have come straight out of
Nikita Mikhailkov's Burnt By The Sun. An untouched riverbank, winding
through pine forests and open fields, past golden cupolas on its way into
the big city. It was a scene of simple pleasures. Fishermen were fishing,
swimmers were swimming. Not a radio was to be heard. No one was detectably
drunk and no one, unless I had miscounted, was drowning. The sound of jet
skis could be heard. California had come to the outskirts of Moscow. For
two months a balmy peace has descended over the city. The markets are full
of fresh salads, all grown locally. To the dismay of the importers, last
August's crash and the devaluation of the rouble have given a huge boost to
domestic producers and slapped a large import tariff on foreign goods. The
result is that locally produced Russian drinks like Kvas and Russian beer
are profitable once again. Coca-Cola and Heineken are, for once, brooding
about the remembrance of things past. The wheels of heavy industry are
beginning to turn, with steelmakers making a billion pounds by exporting
all their goods.
The birch forests around Moscow are alive with the sound of children's
voices, as families are dispatched to spend the summer at the dacha. But
I'll stop there, because all this does not sound Russian enough. Not even
to Russian ears.
Like winter, or indeed spring or autumn, summer has been disaster time in
the national media. It started with a plague of locusts chomping their way
through the crops in south-western Siberia, and moving westwards as if they
were marching on central Russia. Then came the forest fires, more than
20,000 of them, whose smoke forced Boris Yeltsin to move dachas.
Interspersed with the heatwave and the drought, the heavens opened and, in
the north of the city, hailstones the size of golf-balls dented the bonnets
of Lada and Mercedes alike.
Plague and pestilence have also been sweeping through the holy land. A
hitherto unknown viral infection "most likely the Congo-Crimean
haemorrhagic fever" according to Russia's senior health officials, has
killed nine and hospitalised 136. Everyone around the village in the Rostov
region, where the infection broke out, has been wearing surgical face
masks. The latest pest is tick-borne encephalitis. Apparently, 16,000
people have been complaining of tick bites in Novosibirsk.
Life has been made no easier by self-styled reformers, robber-barons and
free-market missionaries who have swept over the motherland like the horde
of locusts. The health service, outside the privately endowed hospitals of
the capital, is in tatters. For a people so firmly wedded to the dark side
of life, the latest thing to take off on television is called "Disaster of
the Week". It's 999, with a difference. Most people aren't rescued. They die.
The Russian Michael Buerk is a lugubrious bod with a funereal air, who
announces a fresh crop of disasters at home and abroad: pedestrians mown
down on the roads, plane crashes off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, buses
falling into swollen rivers in Brazil. There's no message other than that
there's really a lot of death around.
The same brooding tone is adopted by the weather forecaster. Bright and
cheery for temperatures in their mid-70s? You must be kidding. Had I
thought about the air pressure, or the humidity, or that ozone hole? They
actually said it was better to stay indoors - this for a country with a
winter seven-months long. I blame the language.
I ask a friend whether things have gone as calamitously as she expected,
the stock reply is " narmalna " which literally means "as normal". It's by
the riverbanks that the highest form of optimism is to be found. The saying
goes: " Kharasho, tiplo i muchi ni kusaet " (It's hot, it's good, and the
flies don't bite") - well, not unless they are ticks carrying encephalitis.
From: "Dennis Whelan" <Whelan@RussiaLaw.com>
Subject: New policy on student visas?
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999
I'm writing to inquire whether others have encountered what appears to
be a new policy at the US Consulate/Moscow with respect to
student/exchange visas (F-1 & J-1) and perhaps non-immigrant visas
Background: I'm in a law/consulting firm that works primarily in the
environmental area -from environmental permitting and due diligence
through "state environmental expertise" and environmental impact
assessments. Over the past few weeks we have been besieged with
inquiries regarding rejected F-1 & J-1 visas. Some have come from
academic colleagues in Russia and the US, others from friends,
clients, and business partners. Nothing like this has ever happened
before - at most we've written a few letters a year in support of the
visa applications of business partners.
The educational institutions on the US side range from elite
liberal-arts colleges and universities through private high schools
and language study programs. On the Russian side the rejected
applicants include first-time students and students who have a US
high-school degree and have been admitted to a US college; people
who've never been in the States and people who've already held
multiple long-term tourist/business visas; children from families of
small means and children from some of the most influential families in
Russia. Recently an old friend who has traveled to the States dozens
of times, has a (still) successful business, and is dependent on US
business partners enrolled in a language program at a West Coast
university to improve her English. A consular officer told her that at
age fifty-two she had no business being a student and that the
consular officer was putting a notation in her file that would make it
unlikely that she'd ever travel to the States again. The daughter of
the senior officer at a western bank, a man who could well become
Chairman of the Central Bank if Russia ever develops a decent banking
system, was denied a visa because the consular officer insisted that
she had "admitted" that her intention was to stay in the US and get a
job there after finishing medical school (the girls is 17 and just
starting college!). Her father and she are both certain that she said
nothing of the sort - and both speak superb English.
If I had heard only one story like this, I'd suspect some kind of
misunderstanding - perhaps hurt feelings on the part of the applicant,
perhaps garbled communication between people who don't speak each
other's language particularly well. But in this case there are more
similar stories, all arising over the past few weeks.
I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with similar experiences. If
this is a new consular policy, I'd help and suggestions on how to deal
with it. It clearly seems to contradict formal US foreign policy and
congressional intent as expressed in recent foreign aid bills.
From: Alexander Yanov <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Open Letter to Colleagues in the West
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999
Dear David, it's been a while since I've contributed to JRL. The piece I
bring to your attention now is written for a new bilingual journal we are
about to launch in Moscow on the basis of "Moskovskie Novosti." It's called
Evropeets/The Other Russia: a Journal of Pan-European Dialogue. And its
opening issue which may - if God smiles at us - see the light in early
December is composed essentially of responses from around the world to this
Open Letter to Colleagues in the West (which is in the attachment to this
letter). We'll be glad to include among them any serious responses of
A Way to Break the Deadlock?
Open Letter to Colleagues in the West
I do not suppose you will deny that the current situation both in
continental Europe and post-Soviet Russia is something of a paradox.
To an outside observer at least it looks that, for all its apparent
prosperity, something seems to be missing in Europe. Something, that is,
more fascinating than the price of butter and more constructive than
military hardware, to quote Hugh Setton-Watson. A common cause perhaps, an
uplifting pan-European Frontier, a unifying mystic. After all, in the words
of so competent an expert as Norman Davies, “Europe has not had a unifying
ideal since Christendom’s fragmentation” (and being the author of a history
of Europe unrivaled for popularity, he ought to know what he is talking
I am not sure what the connection might be between this long overdue
emergence of a common cause (or, if you prefer, European patriotism) and
the paradox of Europe being hopelessly stagnant as compared to dynamic
America, despite the former’s far more advanced political state than that
of the conventional geopolitical world.
Could it be that America has been all the time moving from one Frontier to
the next, from conquering the Wild West to conquering outer space to
conquering the information universe, while Europe has known nothing on that
scale since the days of Columbus? Whatever it is, America, in contrast to
Europe, did not get bogged down in the morass of mass unemployment. And I
don’t know about you, but personally I do not recall coming across any
serious ideas likely to stop this wicked waste of human potential.
In Russia, things are rather more complex, but every bit as paradoxical.
Within the last two hundred years, the country has sacrificed four
generations of its youth to the cause of political liberty. But having
acquired it at long last, Russia is again yearning for the Master’s iron
hand. To reword Marx’s adage, one might say there’s a specter haunting
Russia - the specter of Restoration.
Explanations vary. Some people ascribe this to the fact that balancing
indefinitely on the verge of economic collapse is unbearable. Others blame
the West for having forced on Russia an economic reform model that was all
wrong, with the result that a sizeable proportion of its population,
including the intellectuals, has been reduced to abject poverty, and social
inequality has been pushed up to a critical level. Still others are
inclined to read into this some treacherous anti-Russian scheming by that
same West hell-bent on degrading, dismembering and, with luck, destroying
its one-time Cold War adversary. Finally, the fourth group of people see
the problem in the slow death of Russia’s science and industry with its
vast intellectual and research potential left unclaimed.
Yet whatever the explanation, the bitter feeling that liberty has pixie-led
the country into wilderness, that the age-old dream has not been fulfilled,
is experienced by all who still remember that dream. An iceberg has loomed
up in front of the Russian Titanic, and the collision may effectively
finish it. It will take a truly outlandish idea, it seems, to change this
disastrous course, if this is at all possible; the kind of idea that Niels
Bohr himself would not have rejected as “not outlandish enough.”
What do the European and Russian paradoxes have in common? Just about
everything, I should imagine. So much so that both can be seen as a single
Big Paradox. Primarily because liberal Russia may not be able to prevent
Restoration without Europe’s help, while continental Europe may well fail
to shake off the burden of stagnation and chronic mass unemployment without
Russia’s participation. What makes the two paradoxes even more alike is the
fatal fact that Restoration in Russia would certainly put an end to its
historical journey as a great and even unified power, as well as unleashing
a chain of such crises in Europe that, next to them, the bloody conflicts
in Bosnia or Kosovo would pale into insignificance. To say nothing of
Europe’s political progress, its chief accomplishment of the post-war
years, that would be canceled out by that. The age-long dream of a unified
Europe would then be buried under the debris of Russia’s freedom.
As you see, the stakes in this game of paradox are lethally high. But is
there an idea, albeit “outlandish,” that might serve as a key to two locks
as different as these? And if there is, can it be hit upon? The very
question implies that the ball is in our court, as it were. By us I mean
intellectuals, Russian and foreign, the people whose trade is ideas. Just
think, the life and death of whole nations depend on whether or not we
shall manage to come up with a life-saving idea. I hope you will agree it
is not often that we are called upon to do something of this magnitude.
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brede, better known as Montesquieu,
lived at a time when monarchies, to all intents and purposes, were
inexorably “flowing into the ocean of despotism, like rivers,” to quote the
man. He took up a similar intellectual challenge in his “The Spirit of the
Laws” - exactly how, you know well enough. His idea was, by the standards
of the time, quite outlandish; moreover, it was ludicrous in the eyes of
his European contemporaries. Indeed, what absolute monarch would ever agree
to act on his advice and share power with an independent court, still less
with representatives of the people? Who could have thought at the time that
somewhere in Britain’s savage overseas colonies his book would become a
manual for local intellectuals who would then set out to shape a new world
proceeding precisely from his outlandish idea? Today it is we who are in
Montesquieu’s shoes. Shall we follow his example, or shall we lose heart
and trust politicians and the IMF to do the trick? From my vantage point
this would seem tantamount to admitting one’s intellectual inadequacy.
So now I would like to submit to your verdict an idea that looks outlandish
to perfection. In the hope that it may kick-start a pan-European debate of
that accursed Big Paradox of ours. Naturally, this is no more than an
intellectual provocation. For in the course of the argument, should it ever
take place, someone will be sure to suggest other ideas, conforming even
better to Niels Bohr’s criterion. Because the point is in not giving up. In
going on with the quest. In doing it together, not separately. One might
say in a case like this that it is “together or never.”
But before I can give you even the vaguest outline of this outlandish idea
of mine (which would perhaps be more appropriately called a dissident idea,
however), I must try and explain why politicians have so far failed to
achieve anything like the dialogue proposed here, and, I am afraid, never
will succeed. Why, in other words, barring us, there is simply no one to
tackle the problem.
It is difficult to find an agency that would comprehensively, and with due
authority, represent the stand of present-day political elites in Russia
and the West. Our purpose, though, will be amply served if we focus on the
exceedingly well-informed British weekly The Economist, on the one hand,
and the Moscow Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP), on the other,
which represents the Russian establishment mainstream. Particularly since
both published their fundamental documents in 1998, more or less
simultaneously: The Economist - its survey article entitled “Russia and the
West,” and CFDP - a kind of manifesto with a title no less significant -
“Strategy XXI for Russia.” Incidentally, the seventy signatures under this
manifesto look rather like a “Who’s Who” in Russia’s business and political
elites (including those in the regions). Well then, let us try and see why
dialogue is something that eluded them.
The Economist assumes that Russia is no longer an active enemy of the West,
but is yet to become its integral part. The object is, therefore, for
Russia to become one (or so the weekly believes). “The Western countries
hope that it [Russia] is still in the process of settling down, that it
will shed its America-induced complexes and acquire a new identity as a
Western country with Western values. If it does, Europe, as an entity, will
end up more settled than ever before in history.” But what if it doesn’t?
The question, you will agree, is only too legitimate. At any rate, the
aforementioned CFDP manifesto plainly suggests that the Russian elites
don’t have the slightest wish to embrace “Western values.” Moreover, they
see one of Russia’s crucial achievements precisely in the fact that it “has
resisted the temptation of blanket cultural Westernization.” They are happy
that over the last few years “the pro-Western bias in foreign policy has
been successfully eliminated,” and describe NATO’s enlargement as
“perfidy.” They sincerely hope that “the current disenchantment [with the
West] may prove more constructive, effective and advantageous than the
So, as one can see, the hopes cherished by the Russian political elites are
a far cry from those of the Western ones so simple-heartedly articulated by
The Economist. The parties are obviously speaking different tongues, do not
listen to each other, or when they do, do not understand each other.
In the New Millennium
But if the differences already sound irreconcilable, what will the world
have to face “after Yeltsin and Clinton”? The Economist itself, come to
that, does not overlook this eventuality. Indeed, isn’t it quite possible
that a Yeltsin’s successor, would, say, demand Sebastopol back from
Ukraine? Particularly given the fact that three candidates likely to fill
the post - Luzhkov, Lebed and Zyuganov - are already demanding just that.
Imagine now that Ukraine, which is not at all willing to part with
Sebastopol, will turn to NATO for help under the circumstances, and the
latter will agree to render that help. How, do you think, the Russian
elites will react to this, if they are even now raging and fuming about
“the West’s perfidy”? And will it take long for a head-on clash to occur in
the event? Especially if one recalls that once (in 1914) it was the then
equivalent of Sebastopol, Constantinople, that played the fatal role of an
iceberg the Russian Titanic crashed on.
To say nothing of the recent Yugoslavia debacle, when confronted with the
choice between “Slav brotherhood” and “Western values,” Russia’s cultural
elite tended to vote for the former. What are we to expect from this choice
of theirs in the future, especially if the Great Depression currently
plaguing Russia proves PERMANENT?
The Economist, let me repeat, is aware of the danger. And yet it signally
fails to counter it with anything. Besides the idea that, contrary to the
obvious, Russia will somehow acquire one fine day that “new identity as a
Western country with Western values.” Oh, to be sure, the weekly’s editors
are much too sensible for outlandish ideas. And so they don’t even notice
that their own idea IS outlandish - literally so, and not in the Bohr sense
of the word. That is, utterly groundless, as we know now, impracticable and
But what really matters is not The Economist and its editors. It is just
that they speak in behalf of Western politicians, as it were. And what else
could their idea’s total unfeasibility mean if not the fact that those
politicians don’s stand a chance of righting the Big Paradox I started my
The root of the mistake, meanwhile, is largely semantic. I know at least
one brilliant European intellectual, Robert Cooper in England, who concedes
that the term “the West,” which for a century and a half has been rousing
Russian “patriots” to fever pitch, is now a thing of the past, along with
the Cold War and its division of the political universe into the Western,
Soviet and Third Worlds. What the term covers at present is two worlds
actually existing within different historical time scales.
The current “Second World” (let us call it conventional) is still living in
the age of national interests and ambitious governments. And the chief
security guarantee for its leaders is military might, as it has been since
the beginning of time. This is the old world of geopolitics, the world of
Machiavelli and Kissinger, the same one that has already plunged Europe
into two fratricidal wars this century and where the Moscow “patriots”
would dearly love to plunge Russia as well. The “Eastern” China and the
“Western” U.S. are equally part of this conventional world.
The trouble is, however, that The Economist also places under the same
abstract term “the West” a very different political world one might call
unconventional. I am talking of course of the same old man Europe that the
forebears of today’s Russian “patriots” declared “decaying” and even
“putrid” way back in the mid-1800s. Nevertheless it is Europe that has
proved able and willing to take a step into the future. Into the world,
that is, where geopolitics no longer rules the roost, where the boundaries
between states are transparent and the community has greater authority than
national interests, where mutual trust has replaced military might as a
Obviously, this open world of Europe taking shape before our very eyes can
as yet exist only under the protective umbrella of that perfectly
conventional colossus, the United States. Equally obviously, the only way
to make it stable, to let it take root, as it were, is by making Russia
part of it. That must be why Cooper notes that “the key issue of Europe’s
security is how things will work out in Russia.” The only thing that is not
clear is in which of these worlds The Economist intends Russia to acquire
its “new identity.” In the world of geopolitics where the country is being
pushed by the Russian “patriots” anyway, or in Europe’s open world?
First Half of the Idea
Surely it must be obvious that it is this confusion that is at the root of
the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the stand of The Economist
and CFDP? It can’t be Europe, can it, CFDP has in mind when it gets all
worked up about the “perfidy of the West.” And, most important, Russia
needs no new identity to be part of Europe. It does not, because it, or at
least the moderate, liberal Russia still alive in today’s Moscow, has
always been intrinsically European. (Incidentally, I wrote a whole book on
the subject that was published in Moscow in 1998. You will find a summary
of its contents in the Appendix to my letter).
So. The first half of my idea consists precisely in eliminating the
semantic confusion introduced in our issue by the Russian “patriots,” in
which they are unfortunately assisted by The Economist. Or, to put it
differently, in picturing liberal Russia as an inalienable and natural part
of open Europe (see the superb defense of this view in Norman Davies’
formidable tome “Europe: A History”). And of course in understanding that
the other, conventional Russia, a Russia of the second world, as it were,
which is certainly a fact of reality as well, will doubtless reach for
geopolitics, Sebastopol and “Slav brotherhood,” if allowed to prevail, and
so for confrontation with the West.
For the main thing The Economist failed to grasp is that just as there are
two different worlds concealed under the name of the West, so too is the
name of Russia hiding two worlds, every bit as dissimilar and living in
different historical time scales (let us call them “Decembrist” and
“Slavophile,” for simplicity’s sake, as I did in my book). And Europe’s
true problem is which of the two Russian worlds it prefers to deal with.
By no means does this idea have anything in common with the Brezhnevist
dream of splitting the Atlantic alliance and thus alienating Europe and
America. It is just that Europe’s open world, which has been putting up
with the “geopolitical backwardness” of one great overseas partner, may
also, for the sake of removing the Big Paradox, have to put up with the
historical duality of another partner, in the east. In exactly the same way
it did out up after World War II with a similar historical duality of
Moreover, Europe will have to grasp once and for all this simple idea: Only
European participation - intellectual, as well as financial - will enable
Russia to overcome at last its traditional duality that has been its bane
for centuries. In other words, to marginalize Russia’s own anti-European
Slavophile tradition. After all, it was Europe that helped Germany to
marginalize its anti-European Teutonophile tradition.
In short, if the split Russia of today finds it easier to accept a European
identity than see itself as part of “the West,” then this is what the
strategy of integrating it into the European family ought to be.
The Last Frontier of Europe
I think I’ll start my exposition of the second, the principal, part of the
idea with this. Russia has a unique monopoly that goes by the name of
Siberia, the only undeveloped, uncivilized and almost unpopulated territory
in the whole wide world, several times the size of Europe. In the 400 years
of its imperial life, the “patriotic” Russia never got down to civilizing
this Frontier of hers.
Meanwhile, right on Siberia’s doorstep, across the Amur River, there is the
huge restless mass of China, a billion strong and suffocating for want of
Lebensraum. Be that as it may, at the close of the second Christian
millennium Russia, with its undeveloped Frontier, has suddenly emerged as a
dog-in-the- manger. On the one hand, 25 million Russians have unexpectedly
found themselves residents of foreign countries in the wake of the Soviet
Union’s collapse, while on the other, they certainly cannot be expected to
up sticks and move to inclement Siberia, young children and all, if even
refugees are not tempted to seek refuge there.
It goes without saying that Russia in its present state has no money to
develop its Siberian Frontier. For what is needed there is science-fiction
technologies, super-highways, fundamentally new types of production,
hundreds of thousands of new jobs. In a word, mammoth investment. Whereas
the government in Moscow took months to pay even the miners’ meager wages.
Siberia, meanwhile, has every conceivable kind of mineral wealth, from coal
to diamonds, from natural gas to gold, from oil to timber (eight million
square kilometers of it, more than in Brazil, China and India put
together). In short, there is no other place like it, literally a new El
Dorado I might say, if the image were not burdened with implications not
quite suitable for the present issue. Well, be that as it may, the Frontier
in question is capable of repaying a hundredfold for its development - as
developers go along.
Removing the Paradox
I realize that so far the whole thing has looked fairly trivial. But just
try and couple this with the first half of the idea. That is, picture
Siberia as a Frontier not merely Russia’s but the entire unconventional
world’s, as a kind of gigantic joint venture run by European Russia and
continental Europe. How will it look then?
Russia owns a colossal undeveloped chunk of real estate, as it were, plus a
powerful military industry in need of conversion, and a first-rate
currently unclaimed body of researchers and engineers bound to come in
useful if Siberia is to be developed. Its people desperately need an
uplifting national goal, and deep down they know that Russia rests on
Siberia. Europe, on the other hand, badly needs those fundamentally new
production modes and technologies, those hundreds of thousands, if not
millions, of new jobs which will certainly be required to develop this
enormous and in parts still virtually inaccessible, at least with today’s
For Europe the Siberian Frontier might be what the opened Western Frontier
was for the United States in the 19th century, where its industry may
receive precisely the boost it needs as well as the kind of unifying mystic
I talked about at the beginning of my letter. What I really mean is a sort
of historic challenge, a New World, if you like, waiting for its Columbus.
And of course, no less important, getting down to more mundane things,
Europe has the money for that. Immeasurably more than in Columbus’ times.
The money that, multiplied by Russian resourcefulness, can really work
So. Let us join the two components and get - what? The Big Paradox removed.
More specifically, Europe will be getting a good chance to shake off the
burden of parochial cultural routine, to say nothing of chronic mass
unemployment, while Russia will find a genuine political, economic and,
possibly even more importantly, cultural alternative to Sebastopol,
figuratively speaking, but really to Restoration. In short, the Russian
Titanic will have a chance of sailing safely past the iceberg that lies in
wait for it.
And to do it, she will not need to acquire the ambiguous “Western values”
as advised by The Economist, the values of the open European world being
far more essential for it. While that world itself will get a tremendous
energy - and cultural - impulse that invariably accompanies the development
of a new Frontier. You don’t need me to tell you how topical this is.
Of Siberian Miners and Antonio Gramsci
Is the idea feasible? I haven’t a clue. It will probably take several
research centers to do the necessary computation. But here is a tiny
example I have recently read about in a newspaper seeming to suggest that
it might be, just. A mine in Kuznetsk Coal Basin made a deal with a German
company under which European money would go into its modernization, and the
miners would pay for that in kind, with the coal. Now look how everything
falls neatly into place. There is no longer any point in miners banging
their helmets on the pavement in front of the White House in Moscow asking
for the moon. They get state-of-the-art mining equipment, and a market for
their coal, and ready cash in payment for it. But then the Europeans also
get what they are after. So isn’t this perhaps a micro-model of
pan-European development for the Siberian Frontier we have got here,
however approximate, however inaccurate?
Going back to intellectual issues, I would like to observe, though, that it
was the Italian thinker, Antonio Gramsci, Marxist as he was, who, decades
ago, substantiated the “idea-hegemon” theory in his “Prison Diaries.” Which
is again something you know, I assume. An idea thrown by dissident
intellectuals into the mass consciousness stands a chance, should it win
over the cultural elites, of turning into a Promethean “hegemon” able to
effectively change the world. The history of the last two and a half
centuries has furnished us with any number of proofs that Gramsci was right.
>From Montesquieu and the Encyclopedists whose ideas toppled the French
monarchy (and ultimately European absolutism) and down to those of Soviet
dissidents which brought about the collapse of a mighty military empire
(and so put an end to the Cold War), ideas existed and worked in history
precisely in accordance with the Gramsci formula.
But Gramsci in his turn fell back on the last of Marx’s theses on
Feuerbach. Which you no doubt remember as well, the one stating that the
philosophers have so far only interpreted the world in various ways, while
the point is to change it. Then, oddly enough, the Siberian miners and
European businessmen, not too happy with our interpretation of the world,
attempted to change it, at their risk. That is behaved like the very
philosophers Marx had hoped to see. It is a safe bet they have never even
heard of Gramsci. And yet they subconsciously acted on his formula,
throwing into the world a new dissident idea.
But to each his own. Ideas, after all, are the stuff of intellectuals, not
miners. Raising the miners’ idea to the level of consciousness, spelling
out the conditions under which it might turn into a “hegemon,” staking
one’s intellectual authority for the sake of this transformation - these
are all things no one can do but us. So why don’t we try it? What if
Gramsci is proved right yet again?
What’s It All About, Really?
The point is, in fact, different. Rewording Marx again, one could say:
Dissident ideas have so far only destroyed settled worlds; the point is to
learn to create them. Whether we are capable of that is anyone’s guess. But
unless we have tried, we shall never know. After all, the proof of the
pudding is in the eating.
And practically speaking, surely we must understand that if this last
Frontier of Europe is not developed by Europeans, it will be the Chinese
who will do it in the end.
And then its energy impulse will go not to the new open world, but to the
old geopolitical one. Which will leave Europe a helpless island squashed
between conventional colossuses for years to come, if not forever.
As for me, all I am suggesting is to approach the issue of Russia’s and
Europe’s future not in the conventional geopolitical key, but in the spirit
of a pan-European dialogue, which, whatever one may say, seems rather more
fitting for an open world.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Sincerely yours, Alexander Yanov
Russian Premier Seeks Investors
July 27, 199
By BARRY SCHWEID
WASHINGTON (AP) - Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, trolling for
American capital and good will, is offering wall-to-wall assurances that his
country's rocky economy is on the upswing and that American investors ``can
come without fear of racketeers.''
Opening a brief visit that includes meetings with President Clinton and Vice
President Al Gore, the former counterintelligence chief told hundreds of
American business executives that accounts of ``criminalization'' in Russia's
transition from state controls were exaggerated.
``Take it with a grain of salt,'' he advised at a banquet Monday night in a
posh hotel near the White House. It was hosted by corporations that see new
market opportunities in the vast expanse of Russia as it pursues capitalism
and inclusion in the World Trade Organization and other financial groupings.
Stepashin's visit is designed to help overcome the discord stemming from the
U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia that ousted Serb troops from Kosovo.
Russia, a traditional Serb ally, opposed force as a remedy for ethnic
violence in the Yugoslav province.
His two meetings today with Gore are designed to focus on such areas of
cooperation in science and space. But the big-ticket item for Russia is the
expected approval Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund of a $630
million loan based on findings the Russian parliament has moved to adopt
Western-style measures to protect foreign investors.
``We will fully implement our obligations,'' Stepashin said, referring to
rules set down by the World Bank. ``Strategically, our main goal is a
progression of dynamic reform.''
Even when U.S.-Russian relations slumped because of Kosovo, he said, ``the
economic ties held; the economic ties never snapped.''
Speaking in Russian, and to the approval of his audience, Stepashin said ``no
political upheavals will take us back to the Cold War.''
He said the ruble has been stabilized and inflation checked, and Russian
President Boris Yeltsin had signed a law giving equal protection to foreign
and domestic investments.
``We are going to put an emphasis on small business,'' Stepashin said.
A debt inherited from the Soviet Union is a heavy burden, he said, but Russia
will pay off its debts. And, he said, ``Russia is overcoming enormous
difficulties in the development of its new mentality.''
Stepashin described himself as independent of ``those magnates and tycoons''
who play dominant roles in Russia's economic life. Yeltsin in May dismissed
Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister and named Stepashin, the former federal
security chief and interior minister, to replace him.
Ariel Cohen of the private Heritage Foundation urged the administration to
pursue a ``constructive relationship'' with Russia.
But he also said Russia needs to conduct an unprecedented crackdown on crime
and corruption. ``As a former top law enforcement official, Stepashin knows
how corrupt Russia's economy is and that little will change unless the
government pursues reform.''
On Monday in Singapore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced they would install a second
Washington-Moscow ``hot line'' to help avoid misunderstandings.
They also pronounced the rift between the United States and Russia on the
``We have turned the corner,'' Ivanov said. Recent developments ``demonstrate
the need for having a continuously operating and reliable communication,'' he
Albright, also applying some balm, said, ``The Russian-U.S. relationship was
so important and so broad that it could not be damaged by the Kosovo