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Johnson's Russia List
9 August 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Yeltsin names favoured heir, new Russian PM.
2. Reuters: Yeltsin's speech sacking Stepashin, naming PM.
3. Reuters: Yeltsin move seen shielding inner circle.
4. Reuters: Chronology of Russian government reshuffles.
5. Reuters: Russia's new PM is former Soviet spy.
6. Reuters: US ready to work with Yeltsin's new premier.
7. Reuters: Elizabeth Piper, Leeches help some Russians through
8. Christian Science Monitor: Fred Weir, Media key to Kremlin battle
9. Boston Globe: David Filipov, Russia hits rebel forces by land, air.
10. Reuters: Stepashin warns Russia may lose Dagestan.
11. Bloomberg: Stepashin Falls Victim to Success of His Economic
Yeltsin names favoured heir, new Russian PM
By Martin Nesirky
MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Boris Yeltsin stunned Russia on Monday by sacking
his entire government and then naming his newly-appointed acting premier,
ex-KGB spy Vladimir Putin, as the man he wants to succeed him as president
"He will be able to unite those who will renew the great Russia in the 21st
century," the 68-year-old Kremlin chief said of Putin in a televised address
just hours after firing his predecessor Sergei Stepashin.
Yeltsin said Putin would guarantee the future of reforms in the world's
largest country if elected president.
It was a dramatic move -- the first time Yeltsin has so clearly named a
preferred heir and the fifth time he has chosen a new premier in 17 months.
The rouble fell immediately and Russian shares dropped before bargain hunters
Yet major world markets were unperturbed by the latest political twists.
Foreign governments and the International Monetary Fund said they would stay
on track with Russia, which is wallowing in a deep economic crisis.
Renewed violence in Russia's mainly Moslem North Caucasus may have played a
role in Yeltsin's decision. Opposition leaders said the move was nonetheless
lunacy and more about protecting his entourage than the nation's interests or
Political analysts more charitably pointed to the emergence of Moscow Mayor,
and Yeltsin rival, Yuri Luzhkov's new political alliance last week as the
catalyst. Muscovites were cynical.
"What do you expect from an ill president and his troupe of clowns?" asked
Marina, sheltering in a doorway from rain.
In his television address, the ailing Yeltsin said he had set December 19 as
the date for an election to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Duma deputies will vote next Monday on whether to confirm Putin as premier,
speaker Gennady Seleznyov told reporters.
Yeltsin said by naming the election date he had fired the starting pistol for
an election marathon that would end with a presidential poll in mid-2000.
Yeltsin must step down by law.
"Now I have decided to name a man who in my opinion is capable of uniting
society, based on the broadest political forces, to ensure the continuation
of reforms in Russia," said the bespectacled president in slow, deliberate
"He is Security Council secretary and director of the Federal Security
Service Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."
"I have confidence in him," he said. "I want those who will go to the polls
next July to have confidence in him as well."
Putin said he would definitely stand and described the reasons Yeltsin had
given him for ditching Stepashin.
"As far as I understood, this decision is linked to the president's wish to
change the internal political configuration in the country ahead of the Duma
election and the presidential election, as well as in connection with the
situation in the Caucasus," Putin told his first cabinet meeting.
Despite central bank support, the official rouble rate fell three percent to
25.29 to the dollar in response to the news on Putin and the government's
dismissal. Traders said increased activity by bargain hunters helped the key
RTS1-Interfax share index regain much ground to close down 2.70 percent at
Yeltsin has not said so clearly before whom he would prefer to succeed him,
although he has alluded to others in the past and there had been persistent
speculation in Moscow that pointed to the 47-year-old Putin as a possible
The president is known to be keen to make sure his successor is from his camp
and will guarantee immunity from prosecution for him and his entourage, known
as "The Family."
Putin worked as a KGB spy in Germany and then for the city administration in
St Petersburg, where he earned the nickname "The Grey Cardinal" for his dour
but ultra-loyal backroom style.
He is seen as close to reformer Anatoly Chubais, architect of Russia's
controversial privatisation programme. Chubais is widely regarded as having
close links with the "The Family."
It was not clear what Putin's chances were in the Duma vote. Some political
analysts say he will not get through on the first of three possible votes,
after which Yeltsin must dissolve the Duma. Others say deputies have little
stomach for a fight, knowing to lose would rob them of pre-election
Few think he will fail altogether. Even if he did, the election commission
said the Duma election date would stand.
Yeltsin's speech sacking Stepashin, naming PM
August 9, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin sacked Prime Minister
Sergei Stepashin on Monday and named Security chief Vladimir Putin as acting
premier to replace him.
The full text of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's televised speech follows:
Today I have signed a decree on elections to the State Duma (lower house of
parliament). They will be held on December 19. This is exactly the date set
out by the constitution and the law.
The start has now been given for the elections marathon. It will be very a
complicated and responsible time. And that is why I ask you to assess, with
special attention and even with passion, how the participants in political
race behave themselves. I have promised that the Duma elections will be an
honest fight and I am sure that your choice will be that of discerning and
One should not forget that exactly within a year there will be presidential
And now I have decided to name a man who in my opinion is capable of uniting
society, based on the broadest political forces, to ensure the continuation
of reforms in Russia. He will be able to unite those who will renew the great
Russia in the 21st century.
He is security council secretary and director of the Federal Security Service
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Today I have made a decision to sack the government of Sergei Vadimovich
Stepashin. According to the constitution I have asked the State Duma to
confirm Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as chairman of the Russian government.
I am sure that he will be very useful to the country working in this post,
and the citizens of Russia will be able to assess Putin's business and human
qualities. I have confidence in him. And I want those who go to polls next
July to be confident in him as well and make their choice. I think he has
enough time to show himself.
I know Vladimir Vladimirovich very well. I have watched him for a long time
when he worked as a first deputy mayor of St Petersburg. Over the last few
years, we have been working side by side. In all posts he has acted
confidently and strongly, achieving good results. Vladimir Vladimirovich has
great experience of government work.
To lead the government is a heavy burden, a serious challenge. He will cope,
I am sure. And Russians will support him.
I thank Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin for his good work. He has managed to
create a strong team, to keep a stable political and economic situation in
the country. I am sure Sergei Vadimovich will support his successor and his
Russia is entering a new political era. In one year for the first time in the
country's history the first president of Russia will transfer power to a
fresh, newly elected president. In any case he will be your president,
respected Russians, he who has won in honest and clean elections.
ANALYSIS-Yeltsin move seen shielding inner circle
By Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin's nomination of Russia's
fifth new premier in 17 months smacks of desperation and is aimed at
protecting the interests of his entourage, not of the nation, political
analysts said on Monday.
The choice of security boss Vladimir Putin, with roots in the Soviet-era KGB,
also boosts the threat of ``unconstitutional'' measures like declaring a
state of emergency which might derail a parliamentary election set for
December 19, they said.
Earlier on Monday Yeltsin sacked Sergei Stepashin as prime minister just
three months after appointing him to the post and named Putin as acting
premier. He also declared Putin his preferred candidate in next summer's
The move coincides with rising political tensions triggered by the formation
of a powerful new bloc uniting popular Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and regional
leaders and by fresh conflict in the unruly North Caucasus -- a development
which could provide the grounds for declaring a state of emergency in Russia.
``Putin is tougher than Stepashin and has the support of the security
organs,'' said last week's edition of the Moskovskiye Novosti weekly, which
accurately predicted Putin's appointment.
``And a readiness for tough decisions and authority in the security apparatus
are exactly what Putin will need,'' it said.
Other ``unconstitutional'' scenarios rehearsed in Russia's mass media include
banning the main opposition Communist Party in the name of fighting political
``extremism'' and dissolving parliament to allow Yeltsin to rule indefinitely
Commentators saw in Yeltsin's decision the hand of ``The Family,'' the
president's inner circle, which they say includes his daughter Tatyana
Dyachenko, chief of staff Alexander Voloshin and financiers Boris Berezovsky
and Roman Abramovich.
They are credited with having a decisive influence over the ailing president,
who by law cannot stand for the post again.
Their main motive, analysts say, is to secure a successor who would grant
them immunity from prosecution.
They reason that in Russia's fragile young democracy where trust is sorely
lacking a future president could launch an investigation into business deals
concluded during the Yeltsin era or into possible allegations of misuse of
Yeltsin may also fear a revival of the charges made against him during a
recent, unsuccessful parliamentary bid to impeach him. The charges included
his decision to send tanks to crush the Soviet-era parliament in 1993 and his
disastrous military campaign against rebel guerrillas in Chechnya.
``Stepashin clearly failed to consolidate the pro-Yeltsin regime forces ahead
of the parliamentary election and to show he could protect the interests of
The Family,'' said Boris Makarenko of the Centre for Political Technologies.
He said the Kremlin had been alarmed by last week's alliance between Luzhkov
and regional chiefs. Ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov, Russia's most popular
politician, is also expected to join the centre-left grouping, which opinion
polls suggest will dominate the new State Duma, the lower house of
Yeltsin sacked Primakov in May for dragging his feet over market reforms but
gave no reason for ditching Stepashin.
Superficially, at least, there seems to be little difference between
Stepashin and Putin. Both men are 47, loyal to Yeltsin and have ample
experience working in the security apparatus. On Monday, Putin also said he
planned no big policy changes.
Putin worked for many years in Germany as a spy, is close to Anatoly Chubais
-- architect of Russia's controversial privatisation programme -- and until
Monday headed the Federal Security Service (FSB), a successor body to the
Yeltsin's naming of Putin as his preferred heir did not impress analysts, who
noted he had spoken similarly of veteran premier Viktor Chernomyrdin on
sacking him in March 1998.
``Putin is not a public figure,'' said analyst Andrei Piontkovsky of the man
dubbed the ``Grey Cardinal'' for his secretive, behind-the-scenes style.
Putin's taciturn expression is also unlikely to appeal to Russian voters.
``But Putin is the best candidate (as prime minister) if The Family is
preparing a non-constitutional scenario for holding on to their power and
privileges,'' Piontkovsky added.
Politicians and analysts from across the spectrum were unanimous on one point
-- that Putin's appointment had nothing to do with protecting national
interests or helping the economy.
``This could jeopardise the (economic) recovery we have seen,'' said Peter
Westin, economist at Russian Economic Trends.
``Yeltsin is just showing the only means of power he has, hiring and firing.
It is becoming fairly ridiculous.''
Putin, whom Yeltsin also named as first deputy prime minister on Monday, must
now be approved by the State Duma. If the opposition-dominated chamber
rejects him three times, Yeltsin must dissolve the Duma and call a fresh
Analysts were divided over whether deputies, who in any case face the voters
in December, would accept Putin.
Some said deputies would quietly nod him through, as they did Stepashin in
May, to hold on to their privileges -- including offices, aides and immunity
from prosecution -- until their mandate expires.
Makarenko said Yeltsin might use this opportunity to further provoke his Duma
foes, for example by removing Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin from his
mausoleum on Red Square and having him buried -- a move certain to enrage the
Chronology of Russian government reshuffles
MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin sacked Prime
Minister Sergei Stepashin on Monday and replaced him with the head of the
domestic security service, Vladimir Putin.
Following is a chronology of government reshuffles in post-Soviet Russia:
November 1991 - Yeltsin wins the right from parliament to run the government
and appoints himself prime minister to carry out bold market reforms.
June 1992 - Yeltsin names reformer Yegor Gaidar as acting prime minister. The
Communist-dominated parliament never agreed to confirm Gaidar in his post.
December 1992 - Yeltsin sacks Gaidar under pressure from parliament and names
technocrat Viktor Chernomyrdin, former head of huge natural gas monopoly
Gazprom, to head the government.
March 1998 - Yeltsin sacks Chernomyrdin for being too slow in reforms and
names little-known former provincial banker and energy minister Sergei
Kiriyenko as prime minister.
The Communist-led Duma rejects liberal Kiriyenko twice and approves him only
under the threat of imminent dissolution.
August 1998 - Yeltsin sacks Kiriyenko in the wake of a painful market crunch
marked by default on some foreign debts and the devaluation of the rouble.
The Duma rejects Yeltsin's choice, Chernomyrdin, twice and the Kremlin steps
back from the brink in the decisive vote by offering compromise candidate
Yevgeny Primakov, foreign minister and a former spymaster. Conservative
Primakov wins overwhelming Duma approval on September 11.
May 12, 1999 - Yeltsin unexpectedly sacks Primakov, thanking him for his
performance but adding that Russia needed a more energetic premier.
He names Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to head the government. Stepashin
wins parliamentary approval at the first try.
August 9, 1999 - Yeltsin sacks Stepashin without explaining why and names
Putin, who also headed the influential presidential Security Council, and
asks the Duma to confirm Putin in the new job.
The Duma has to consider Putin's nomination by next Monday.
NEWSMAKER-Russia's new PM is former Soviet spy
MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, built a
reputation as a shrewd Russian security chief. But he will need to muster all
his wiles to fulfil his next role as President Boris Yeltsin's new premier
and favoured heir.
In announcing that he had named Putin as acting premier and backed him as
Russia's next president, Yeltsin said he was ``capable of uniting society,
based on the broadest political forces, to ensure the continuation of reforms
``He will be able to unite those who will renew the great Russia in the 21st
century,'' said Yeltsin, who must step down after an election in 2000.
But analysts from across the Russian political spectrum said Putin's
elevation smacked of desperation and was aimed at protecting the interests of
the president's inner circle, not of the nation.
They also said his appointment raised the fear that Yeltsin and his entourage
would employ ``unconstitutional'' measures to protect themselves from the
vengeance of a hostile successor.
The tight-lipped 47-year-old Putin is a poor public speaker and seldom
appears on television. But he is known for his loyalty to changing bosses and
for getting the job done.
Putin replaces former interior minister Sergei Stepashin, sacked as head of
Russia's government after just three months. Putin is seen as close to market
reformer Anatoly Chubais, architect of Russia's controversial privatisation
Putin first entered the domestic political arena in the early 1990s as aide
to Anatoly Sobchak, liberal mayor of Russia's second city St Petersburg.
He remained in the shadow of his new boss but quickly made himself
indispensable in managing the city's affairs, earning the nickname of the
Putin often chaired meetings of the city administration in Sobchak's absence.
He also oversaw the city's relations with foreign countries and in 1994
became first deputy head of St Petersburg's city government.
``He managed the local administration meetings so effectively that he would
make a perfect prime minister,'' the Kommersant daily quoted one of Putin's
colleagues as saying at the time.
Putin helped Sobchak lay the foundations of a market economy in St Petersburg
and also helped his boss brush off claims by his opponents that he was
abusing his powers.
In the mid-1990s Putin confessed that he had served with Soviet foreign
intelligence, then part of the KGB secret police, for many years in Germany.
Details of his career in intelligence remain unknown but the confession did
no harm to his relations with Sobchak. ``He is not a KGB man, he is my
pupil,'' Sobchak would say to critics.
After Sobchak's election defeat in 1996, Putin was invited to Moscow to work
as deputy to the powerful Pavel Borodin, manager of the huge office running
the property of President Boris Yeltsin's administration, including the
Kremlin, numerous residences and office buildings, hospitals and sanatoriums.
Putin's move to Moscow had been arranged by Chubais, who also hails from St
Petersburg. Within a year, Putin had been invited to join Yeltsin's
administration as head of the Control Department, an influential watchdog
Putin was put in charge of the Kremlin's relations with Russia's 89 regions
and gained a reputation as a tough ``imperialist,'' who resisted giving more
powers to the country's independent-minded regional leaders.
``He was one of the radical bureaucrats who took an extremely tough line
against the regional barons when in the Control Department,'' said Igor
Bunin, head of the Centre of Political Technologies think-tank.
In July 1998 Yeltsin named Putin head of the Federal Security Service (FSB),
one of the successor bodies of the Soviet-era KGB. He replaced Nikolai
Kovalyov, whom the Kremlin had suspected of becoming too independent.
In March this year Putin also became secretary of Yeltsin's advisory Security
Council, in a move which confirmed the president's respect for his loyalty
and quiet efficiency.
Vladimir Putin was born on October 7, 1952, in St Petersburg, then known as
Leningrad. He graduated from the city's law faculty in 1975.
He speaks fluent German and enjoys sport, especially wrestling. Putin is
married and has two children.
US ready to work with Yeltsin's new premier
By Deborah Zabarenko
August 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House soft-pedaled Russian President Boris
Yeltsin's sacking of his prime minister and the appointment of an ex-KGB spy
as a replacement, saying
Monday that Washington is ready to work with the new premier.
``We work with Russian ministers based on policies, not personalities,''
White House national security spokesman David Leavy said in reaction to
Yeltsin's sacking of Sergei Stepashin as premier and the appointment of
Vladimir Putin, secretary of Russia's advisory Security Council, to replace
Yeltsin also fired his entire cabinet and named Putin as the man he wants to
succeed him as president when he leaves office next year.
``We know Mr. Putin well, he is (U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel)
Berger's counterpart, we've dealt with him on Kosovo where he was
constructive,'' Leavy said.
Asked about possible U.S. concerns over instability in Russia after Yeltsin's
appointment of a fifth acting prime minister in 17 months, Leavy replied,
``It's not for us to judge that ... We've had a good relationship with Prime
Minister Stepashin, I'm sure we'll have a relationship with Mr. Putin.''
Berger and Putin discussed U.S.-Russian relations and weapons issues last
week on a special ``hot line'' phone link, Russian news agencies reported.
Stormy relations between Moscow and Washington worsened this year over NATO's
bombing of Yugoslavia, and Russia's reluctance to put peacekeeping troops in
Kosovo under NATO command.
But one analyst, Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the Washington-based Brookings
Institution, said the cautious White House reaction to the latest Yeltsin
move was an appropriate step toward encouraging order in the relationship.
``As a practical matter, I think (the Russians would) have difficulty going
back to an angry threatening relationship (with Washington) because there are
things that they need from the west,'' Sonnenfeldt said.
These needs include economic aid and some kind of working relationship with
NATO, if only to keep Russian troops supplied in Kosovo, he said.
Sonnenfeldt added that Russia was already engaged in pre-election maneuvering
in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections. For his part, Leavy stressed
that it was ``important that Yeltsin reaffirm his intention to hold Duma
elections on time in December.''
Leavy said Washington would continue to press for ratification of the START 2
arms reduction treaty by the Russian parliament.
Stepashin visited Washington two weeks ago, where he met with Vice President
Al Gore. At a news conference following two hours of talks, the two promised
new talks on arms control and fresh efforts on trade and investment.
The two men also said officials from both countries would open talks in
Moscow this month on a new round of nuclear arms cuts. U.S.-Russian arms
control talks have been hampered for years by the Russian Duma's failure to
ratify the 1993 START 2 treaty, which was approved by the U.S. Senate in
The United States and Russia have explored what a START 3 treaty might be
like, but Washington has insisted it would not actually sign such a treaty
until START 2 enters into force.
Leeches help some Russians through crisis
By Elizabeth Piper
RODNIKI, Russia, Aug 9 (Reuters) - For most people, they are black, slimy
bloodsuckers, but for a village just outside Moscow leeches have become a way
of surviving the financial turmoil that has driven millions of Russians to
A year after a market meltdown, debt defaults and a rouble devaluation, the
legendary patience of many long-suffering Russians has been pushed close to
The vast majority are now craving political and economic stability, but a few
desperate souls just want to feel better, even if it means sucking out the
The leech business is flourishing.
Not only are people buying leeches to cure illnesses ranging from
haemorrhoids to heart disease, but those who use them claim to feel the added
benefit of their ``bio-energy'' which leaves them uplifted and happy even in
the worst situations.
It may sound drastic, but times are hard. The crisis fuelled unemployment and
soaring prices. Many accounts were frozen in collapsed banks and living
standards remain low.
``For those who use medical leeches, they get bio-energy and feel better than
a normal human being. They don't need to think about bread,'' Professor
Gennady Nikonov, general director at the International Medical Leech Centre
based in a leafy village south-east of Moscow, said in an interview.
``That person will live and they don't need to eat, they are happy,'' he
said, relishing the sound of drills whining outside as his building gets a
badly-needed refurbishment at a time when many offices around Moscow are
Nikonov said he and his company were ``a little frightened'' during the early
days of economic crisis, which brought down some of Russia's biggest banks,
tarnished the reputations of leading entrepreneurs and left many penniless.
``But I am convinced after this that even in my old age my work with leeches
will keep me well,'' he said, showing off a shabby laboratory full of large
water-filled glass jars containing thousands of baby, old and pregnant
WITHOUT LEECHES, LIFE HAS BEEN HARD
Nikonov, unlike many, refused to put up prices to recoup huge expected losses
as the rouble plunged against the dollar in the wake of the August 17 crisis.
He said it would not be fair to charge higher prices to people who want to
use leeches as many of them had their savings and wages eroded or lost money
in frozen bank accounts.
The crisis plunged millions into poverty and now more than one in three
Russians is living below the official poverty line.
Even Russia's political and business elite were affected. Former Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev lost $400,000 after the bank he used, Inkombank,
lost its licence and closed its doors.
Nikonov said the impact on his business was minimal.
``There was a little dip in demand over the first six months after the crisis
but we endured it because it was just due to people phoning and wanting to
know how much the leeches cost after August,'' he said, adding that huge
queues quickly returned when people realised the prices had not soared.''
Russians can now buy one leech for seven roubles (30 cents), instead of five
roubles in August of last year.
``We sell the cheapest leeches in the world. In France they cost $2-3 for
one, in America they cost up to $10 and in England they cost about four and a
half pounds,'' he said.
``We kept the price low so that people could still get well.''
But for those who do not have the benefit of bio-energy from leeches, other
price rises have been punishing. Russian food prices rose 135 percent in the
year from June 1998.
``Of course they're expensive (food and medicine). I never buy meat, I
sometimes buy milk and I buy bread and that's all,'' said Domna Yermakova,
who worked in a metal-turning factory during the war.
``I've lived for a long time,'' said Yermakova, who was born in 1910. ``Now
it's hard to live I am all alone. I worked all the war and now this is how
it's worked out. Alone with my bread,'' she said sitting on her bed in a
tumble-down apartment block.
``The stuff in this market is too expensive...you ask if prices have gone up,
that's obvious,'' said 66-year-old Nina at the counter of a sausage stall.
``I don't have the money to buy even a piece of that sausage,'' she said,
picking up her bag which clinked with beer bottles she had collected to claim
a few kopecks for their return.
Unlike Nikonov's employees, who can earn up to 3,000 roubles ($125) a month,
many of Russia's workers have seen their wages squeezed or halted completely
as their bosses' axe fell.
About 35 percent of the population, or 51.7 million people, received monthly
salaries below the minimum subsistence level of 872 roubles ($36) during the
first half of the year compared with 22 percent in the same period last year.
Yekaterina's husband, once an engineer, now helps to scrape a living by
taking turns to run her fruit and vegetables stall.
By the end of June 10.44 million people or 14.2 percent of Russia's working
population were out of work compared to 8.1 million a year earlier.
``We have survived,'' she said. ``He was getting very small wages as an
WE WILL SURVIVE, RUSSIANS SAY WITH A STEELY WILL
Many Muscovites say they have survived the crisis-laden months and will
continue to do so.
Despite the financial crisis and one of the coldest winters on record, there
is eerie sense of calm in Moscow.
There were no real protests against the leadership which prompted Russia's
collapse and many Muscovites say their lives have not been radically altered.
``We would have been better without the crisis, but at the same time it was
positive and negative. The only bad thing was people were traumatised, people
were stressed,'' Nikonov said.
Survival techniques are rooted in the national character, he said, explaining
that Russians turn to leeches even in the present day because their medical
powers are rooted in the collective memory.
``I named my first beauty cream (made with leech extract) Antonia after my
mother Antonina,'' Nikonov said. ``She is still alive and introduced me to
Christian Science Monitor
9 August 1999
Media key to Kremlin battle plan
A government crackdown and press feud herald coming elections. Can media stay
free of controls?
By Fred Weir , Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Russia's fragile press freedoms could become the first casualties as the
country's political clans begin the battle for the ultimate political prize -
"High-ranking officials are putting pressure on the mass media and on
journalists," warned the editors of 14 leading Russian news publications in
an open letter to President Boris Yeltsin last week. "They are using their
official clout and even the name of the Russian president to do this," the
The editors accuse Kremlin insiders, concerned about their own survival after
Mr. Yeltsin leaves office next year, of ordering unwarranted tax raids and
making other unspecified threats against news media that take an independent
line in reporting the coming elections. A parliamentary vote is due in
December, to be followed six months later by a presidential poll.
An early warning that the Kremlin may be planning to manipulate those
elections was the creation, two months ago, of a press ministry to ride herd
on the media.
In his first public interview, the new press czar, Mikhail Lesin, said he saw
his job as trying to force news outlets to serve the interests of the state.
"The defense of the state from the free mass media is a pressing problem at
present," Mr. Lesin said. "I don't agree with the thesis that the state is
more dangerous to the media than the media is to the state. I believe quite
The mayor's challenge
Though the Kremlin has yet to nominate its own candidate to succeed Yeltsin,
it is already at war with outside challengers.
The president's inner circle seems particularly worried by Moscow Mayor Yuri
Luzhkov, a tough, ambitious player who is building an electoral coalition of
powerful regional leaders that could prove unstoppable.
Several of the publications complaining of Kremlin harassment are owned by
Vladimir Gusinsky, a media tycoon who has increasingly thrown his support
behind Mr. Luzhkov.
"Freedom of expression, a crucial democratic freedom guaranteed by the
Constitution, can be sufficiently protected under the current circumstances
only by the intercession of the president," the editors' letter to Yeltsin
In a dramatic confirmation of those fears, one of the signatories, Raf
Shakirov, chief editor of the respected Kommersant daily newspaper, was fired
within days of the letter's publication.
Kommersant was purchased a month ago by Boris Berezovsky, the most outspoken
of Russia's shadowy ultrarich power players, known as the oligarchs, and
rumored to be the Yeltsin family's private financial adviser. Journalists at
Kommersant say they expect a full-scale purge of the paper's staff in the
wake of Mr. Shakirov's departure.
Other papers owned by Mr. Berezovsky have been trading highly personal
allegations of corruption, theft, and conspiracy with media outlets owned by
Mr. Gusinsky for weeks.
Analysts say this "newspaper war" is the first volley in a looming fight
between the incumbent Kremlin clan, which includes Berezovsky and the
challengers led by Luzhkov.
"The press war that's going on can't be treated as a simple struggle of
journalists for freedom. It must be treated more as the sound effects as our
mighty oligarchs contend for power," says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the
liberal Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow.
"But even these volleys of contradictory news are better than the monolithic
information monopoly of Soviet times," he adds. "Though there is real danger
in this situation, no one faction is in a position today to grab total
control of the media."
Editors say the appeal to Yeltsin to intervene on their behalf - which sounds
naive to Western ears - is justified by his record. "Whatever else you can
say about him, during the eight years of his presidency Yeltsin has
guaranteed independence of the media and freedom of expression in Russia,"
says Mikhail Berger, editor in chief of the daily Segodnya, a paper owned by
If Yeltsin grants the editors' request for an urgent meeting, he may be
forced to choose decisively between his faded democratic reputation and
several of his closest aides - possibly including his own daughter.
"Many members of Yeltsin's inner circle have a lot to lose if power changes
hands next year and someone like Luzhkov becomes president," says Mr.
Piontkovsky. "That explains why they may be ready to risk everything."
Swiss police say they are investigating Pavel Borodin, the head of the
Kremlin's property department, which controls assets worth an estimated $600
billion, and 22 other top officials on suspicion of money laundering.
Earlier this year an arrest warrant was even issued for Berezovsky, on
charges of embezzlement and money laundering. But when President Yeltsin
fired the left-leaning government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in May
the case was dropped abruptly.
Berezovsky has publicly bragged of his friendship with Yeltsin's daughter,
Tatiana. Though he denies being a financial benefactor to the president's
family, there seems little doubt about his strong influence within the
More than power at stake
Critics are warning that these top officials, fearing for their positions,
their freedom, and possibly their lives in any power shift, may be trying to
stack the political deck so that they can hand pick a presidential successor.
Accomplishing this would require tight control of the press.
The model for this is the1996 presidential elections, when Yeltsin went from
single-digit popularity to victory over a strong Communist contender, thanks
largely to blanket support from Russia's mass media.
"There may be some feeling in the Kremlin that this feat can be repeated next
year, if only the press can be brought into line," says Ilya Bulavinov, head
of the political department at Kommersant, the liberal daily recently
acquired by Berezovsky.
"But there is no big Communist threat this time, so the media aren't likely
to unite - unless they close all the papers that don't support the Kremlin's
candidate," he says.
"Unfortunately, that could be a possibility."
9 August 1999
Russia hits rebel forces by land, air
Moscow tries to halt insurgents but avoid major bloody campaign
By David Filipov
MOSCOW - Government forces launched air and artillery attacks yesterday
against armed rebels holding positions in the Caucasus Mountains, as Russia
faced the most serious challenge to its authority on its volatile southern
frontier since the war in Chechnya.
Russian officials said they had launched a counteroffensive to dislodge up to
2,000 militants who seized control of two mountain villages in the southern
Russian republic of Dagestan on Saturday. The bold incursion has stoked fears
of new, widespread unrest in the North Caucasus, Russia's most restive region.
The gunmen, reportedly members of a radical Muslim sect that seeks to
establish an Islamic republic in Dagestan, presented Moscow with a serious
dilemma: how to end the uprising without getting dragged into another bloody
campaign in the Caucasus.
Television footage showed what appeared to be the heaviest fighting in the
region since Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after a disastrous
two-year campaign killed tens of thousands of people but did not end a
Russian television showed government troops firing mortars, heavy machine
guns, and heavy artillery into the rugged mountain territory held by the
rebels. Casualty figures from the remote region were sketchy and unconfirmed.
Some reports said four Dagestani police officers had been killed. Others said
two Russian helicopters had been shot down by the militants.
Russian news agencies reported that up to 2,000 civilians, mostly women and
children, had fled the area of fighting in the Botlykh region of Dagestan.
Refugees told Russian Public Television that the gunmen were members of the
radical Wahhabi sect, which supports independence for the mostly Islamic
republics in the Caucasus. A police spokesman in Dagestan said the militants
had kept the men in the villages as hostages.
But refugees from the villages said the gunmen didn't threaten them and asked
their help in introducing Islamic law to the region.
''They want to proclaim an Islamic republic. They want the Russian military
forces and police out,'' one unidentified refugee said on NTV television.
Russia's prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, rushed to Dagestan yesterday with
the leaders of the army and police force to oversee the counteroffensive.
Stepashin's spokesman, Alexander Mikhailov, told reporters that ''all
necessary measures, including artillery and missile strikes and bombing the
gunmen's locations, are being taken.''
Stepashin, who as domestic intelligence chief played a key role in the
unsuccessful Chechnya campaign, ruled out a repeat of the Chechen debacle.
''Neither military nor civilian people should suffer during the settlement of
the situation,'' the Russian premier told reporters in Dagestan's capital,
But as estimates of the rebel force grew from several hundred early in the
day to 2,000 by nightfall, it became harder to imagine how Russian forces
would avoid bloodshed to force the militants out.
It was still unclear yesterday exactly who the militants, or their leaders,
are. Russian officials said the gunmen were led by Shamil Basayev, a war hero
in Chechnya who is wanted in Russia for leading a deadly hostage-taking raid
on a Russian town in 1995. Russian news reports also mentioned another field
commander, Khattab, a Jordanian of Chechen descent who is one of the leaders
of the Wahhabi movement in Chechnya.
Both Basayev and Khattab are routinely blamed by Moscow for the kidnappings,
shootings, and other violent crime that has spread throughout Chechnya and
the North Caucasus region since the war ended.
Basayev and Khattab command large, well-trained and equipped forces that do
not obey Chechnya's government. Both are active in a society that promotes
the merger of Dagestan and Chechnya into a single, independent Islamic
republic. They draw on the inspiration of Basayev's namesake, the legendary
Imam Shamil, who used Islam to weld mountain tribes of Dagestan and Chechnya
into a formidable fighting force that resisted the Russian conquest of the
Caucasus into the middle of the 19th century.
Officials in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, said the militants are not Chechens,
but Dagestanis who are protesting Moscow's rule over the region.
Dagestan avoided being dragged into the Chechnya war even when fighting
briefly spilled into the republic in early 1996. But Dagestan has been hard
hit by Russia's decade-long economic struggles. Moscow's authority in the
region is at an all-time low, while radical Islamic groups like the Wahhabis
have gained a foothold, especially in the poorest areas in the mountains
close to Chechnya.
In another part of the North Caucasus region, unidentified gunmen reportedly
killed two Russian servicemen and kidnapped three others in an attack on a
military training facility in North Ossetia, which is west of Chechnya. About
50 Russian servicemen have been killed and dozens taken hostage in frequent
attacks along the Chechen border this year.
Stepashin warns Russia may lose Dagestan
By Andrei Shukshin
August 9, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said
Monday that Moscow risked losing its unruly southern province of Dagestan,
where fighting raged for a third day between federal troops and Islamic
Hundreds of armed fighters seeking independence from Moscow have taken
control of at least three mountainous villages in Dagestan, which borders
breakaway Chechnya, and for three days have resisted efforts to dislodge
Police in the region contacted by telephone said fierce gunbattles resumed
Monday morning after a quiet night.
Dagestani police rounded up several people close to an unofficial Islamic
Council with ties to Islamic activists in Chechnya, after it released a
statement saying it would proclaim Dagestan an independent Islamic state,
Russian news agencies said.
``Today the situation in Dagestan is very difficult. I think we could really
lose Dagestan,'' Stepashin told a final meeting of his Cabinet after
President Boris Yeltsin fired him.
Stepashin, who took a quick trip to Dagestan Sunday, said Russia needed to
work harder to coordinate its efforts to stabilize the situation in the
region, a mostly Muslim area populated by more than 30 different ethnic
Vladimir Putin, a former security chief appointed to replace Stepashin,
immediately pledged to carry out all the decisions and instructions on the
North Caucasus signed by Stepashin.
A spokesman for Dagestan's Security Council said the rebels fired rocket
grenades at an airstrip used by the federal forces as a helicopter pad,
damaging two aircraft.
Russia's news agencies reported rebels fired twice at the helicopter used by
the armed forces' Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, who arrived in Dagestan
Sunday. The Defense Ministry denied the reports.
Border guards in Georgia, which borders Dagestan, said a warplane bombed a
village on their side of the border Monday, wounding two people. Moscow
denied its planes were involved, although there is no other air power in the
Russia's NTV television said four policemen were killed and 17 people wounded
Sunday night when Defense Ministry aircraft accidentally bombed their own
positions. Dagestani police confirmed the casualties but said they were
caused by clashes with rebels.
Leaders of Russia's Federation Council upper house of parliament, which
groups regional chiefs, said they would meet Wednesday to discuss the
worsening situation in Dagestan.
Moscow says the gunmen crossed into Dagestan from Chechnya, which remains
firmly outside federal control three years after a cease-fire ended the
1994-96 war between the region's separatist guerrillas and federal Russian
Chechen officials have denied involvement in the latest fighting, but
Dagestani police officers say the rebels, mostly Dagestanis, received their
military training in Chechnya.
Security services say the Dagestani rebels are followers of Wahhabism, an
austere Islamic sect found in the Middle East, who are plotting to drive
Russians from the North Caucasus.
Stepashin Falls Victim to Success of His Economic Policies
Moscow, Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Former
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, who kept the economy stable and
secured billions of dollars in loans in his three months in office, fell
victim to his success like his predecessor Yevgeny Primakov, analysts said.
President Boris Yeltsin today fired Stepashin, the fourth prime minister he's
sacked in the past 17 months. He fired Viktor Chernomyrdin in March 1998,
soon after Chernomyrdin said he'd run for president in 2000, saying that
Chernomyrdin's government had failed to boost the economy. Yeltsin gave the
same reason when he fired Primakov's government less than three months ago.
This time, he didn't say why he fired Stepashin.
Probably it was because he saw Stepashin gaining support after his government
successfully rescheduled billions of dollars of debts and reached agreement
with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.5 billion loan, analysts said.
``Stepashin started to play too big of a role in Russia and abroad, which was
not liked by Yeltsin and his circle,'' said Yevgeny Volk, director of the
Heritage Foundation in Moscow. ``He pursued an independent policy in the U.S.
and also he showed he was pro-governor during his visits to the regions.''
Stepashin was appointed prime minister in May after serving as Interior
Minister. During his time in office, the ruble remained stable, revenue
collection rose, and spending was reduce. He also was well received by
foreign leaders during the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in
Germany in June and by U.S. officials during a visit to the United States
Yeltsin also may be seeking a strong candidate to counter the growing
popularity of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, whose Fatherland party formed an
alliance recently with the All Russia party of about 16 regional governors.
``Yeltsin and his circle are being threatened by the All Russia party and
Luzhkov,'' said Volk. ``People around Yeltsin make decisions. Stepashin was
never their man.''
Yeltsin's immediate circle, referred to in Russia as ``the family'' and
including his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, Kremlin administration head
Alexander Voloshin and business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, sees the union
between Fatherland and Vsya Rossiya as a threat to their power and ability to
control the upcoming elections, analysts said.
``Luzhkov has been actively protesting Yeltsin's rule,'' Volk said. ``Local
governors are very influential in non-ethnically Russian regions. A
governor's word is law in those regions.''
The group wanted someone who would be sure to toe their line next year.
Yeltsin chose Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, to replace Stepashin. The
president has representatives in most of Russia's 89 regions, and his
administration employed 2,564 people as of Jan. 1, more than double the 1,039
people employed by the government's administration.
``The Kremlin is very much engaged in the election process,'' said Alan
Rousso, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre. ``It wants to make sure it
has a horse in this race.''
Berezovsky said in July he is shifting his efforts to politics from business
in preparation for parliamentary and presidential elections. He said the
winner of presidential elections will probably emerge only after the
parliamentary elections in December. He also said regional leaders would be
more active in these elections than they were in 1995 Duma elections.
Luzhkov, who is seen as a likely presidential candidate, openly criticized
Yeltsin and his administration last month as being incapable of protecting
citizens and improving the economy.
The future Russian president is likely to determine the country's course more
than the composition of the parliament because the president's powers are
much broader than the parliament's. Still, parties coming into the lower
house of parliament will be in a better position to support their candidate
Putin confirmed today he will run for presidency, Russian news agency
``Putin is a figure closer to them (presidential surrounding) ..and he has no
political preferences -- he is used to fulfilling orders,'' Volk said.
The parliament, which is now on summer holidays must hold an extraordinary
session this week to approve Putin for the post of prime minister. If the
parliament refuses the candidacy three times, Yeltsin can dissolve the
``The Duma will definitely not approve Putin in the first vote,'' Volk said.
``To them, it is a serious blow what happened with Stepashin.''