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Johnson's Russia List
16 August 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Gorbachev Says Wife's Condition Is Very Serious.
2. Stratfor Commentary: Further Evidence Emerges Suggesting Gazprom
3. HELLO RUSSIA: PETER THE GREAT - A MAN OF THE MILLENIUM.
4. Itar-Tass: CPRF'S Extraordinary Congress to Be Held on Sept 4.
5. Itar-Tass: Russia Lacks Conditions for a State of
6. THE CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY: William Cohen, THE ESCALATION OF
ANTI-SEMITIC VIOLENCE IN RUSSIA.
7. Washington Post: Sharon LaFraniere, Gulags for the Children.
Russia's Orphanages Warehouse the Retarded.
8. New York Times: Celestine Bohlen, A Russian Who's Still Dancing as Fast
as He Can. ("Is Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin crazy?")
9. Stratfor Commentary: The Price of Arrogance. (Re Caucasus events)]
Gorbachev Says Wife's Condition Is Very Serious
August 15, 1999
BERLIN (Reuters) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev described his
wife's condition as very serious and said he felt useless as she was treated
for acute leukemia, a German newspaper reported Sunday.
Raisa Gorbachev, 67, has been having chemotherapy to combat the blood cancer
at the University Hospital in the northwest German town of Muenster.
Gorbachev told Welt am Sonntags that his wife, whose treatment was described
by the hospital as at a critical stage, had worsened considerably some days
ago and the pain had been so extreme that she was unable to speak.
``Now there is an improvement after a complication halted treatment for a
while... Yesterday we were at last able to talk to each other again. Not a
lot but for a long time,'' he said.
He did not give any indication as to how long Raisa would remain in hospital
or what her recovery chances were. But he said he felt powerless to help her.
``Pain, such as that which Raisa has to overcome at the moment, is a heavy
burden... And it all happens in front of my eyes -- and I am so powerless,''
Gorbachev, who as Communist Party leader in 1985 began the glasnost and
perestroika reforms leading to the Soviet Union's collapse, has been by his
wife's bedside since she was taken ill.
``Being with her is everything. When I am by her side it is easier for her.
Sometimes maybe also more difficult. But we are always together,'' he said.
2130 GMT 990813 – Further Evidence Emerges Suggesting Gazprom Nationalization
The German newspaper Tagespiegel wrote August 13 that Russian President Boris
Yeltsin planned to nationalize Russian energy giant Gazprom. The newspaper
cited a leaked Russian government document as stating the nationalization
would take place at a Gazprom shareholders’ meeting in August. Allegedly,
Russian Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny would raise the number of company
board members appointed by the state and remove Gazprom executive director
Rem Viakhirev from his post during the meeting. Tagespiegel further wrote
that a first attempt to get Gazprom under state control occurred at the July
congress of the Russian oil industry, when Kalyuzhny proposed the energy
ministry take Gazprom under its direct control. The paper suggested that then
Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin opposed such change, which may have been the
real reason for his sacking by Yeltsin this week. Gazprom produces the
majority of Russia’s natural gas, and is also the world’s largest gas
producer. Currently, the Russian government owns 38.37 percent of the
company, Germany’s Ruhrgas owns 5 percent, and remaining part is owned by
dispersed shareholders. In its official response to Tagespiegel’s article,
Gazprom denied August 13 that any information contained in the piece was true.
Earlier this week, Russian tycoon and close Yeltsin ally Boris Berezovsky
said in an interview with French daily newspaper Le Monde that Gazprom head
Rem Viakhirev would soon have to resign his post due to political reasons.
Berezovsky said Viakhirev should leave his post over his support for a
presidential candidate Yuri Luzhkov. Berezovsky explained his position in
regards to Viakhirev by saying, "The state is the majority shareholder in
Gazprom and it is not normal for its financial muscles to be used against the
president and the government." Luzhkov is a strong candidate for the 2000
presidential elections, currently standing fourth in the polls. Moreover,
Luzhkov has strengthened his position, and the position of his Otechestvo
(Fatherland) party, by aligning with Yevgeny Primakov and his All Russia
The Tagespiegel article had a ring of truth, judging from Yeltsin’s ongoing
political machinations in Moscow. As with the recent proxy media war and
proposed media controls, the Gazprom grab undermines Yeltsin’s political foes
ahead of the elections, this time by depriving Luzhkov of his strong
supporter Viakhirev. But more importantly, Gazprom – and the energy sector as
a whole – is one of the few reliably profitable sectors of the Russian
economy, and is a powerful domestic and foreign policy tool. Russia’s former
Soviet satellites owe Gazprom billions of dollars for gas deliveries, and
Russian regions and businesses are in debt to the company as well. The
ability to turn the tap on or off is a powerful bargaining chip, and not one
Yeltsin wants in his opponents’ hands. Stratfor is inclined to believe the
Tagespeigel report, at least insofar as it confirms that Yeltsin will seek to
gain control over Gazprom. Nationalization may be extreme and
counterproductive at the moment, and a sympathetic management is just as
effective for the Kremlin. For certain, Yeltsin and his backers will continue
their attempt to consolidate control over key sectors.
From: "Tanya Samoiloff" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Hello Russia #43
Date: Sun, 15 Aug 1999
FREE RUSSIAN WEEKLY NEWSLETTER # 43
August 16 1999
III. PETER THE GREAT - A MAN OF THE MILLENIUM
More than three thousand readers of "Sobesednik" took part in competition
"Russia. Results of the Millenium ". Below are results of quiz A MAN OF THE
1. Peter The Great (Russian Tzar) - 39 %
2. Alexander Pushkin (Russian Poet)- 18 %.
3. Yuri Gagarin (First Cosmonaut) - 14 %.
4. Mikhail Lomonosov (Scientist) - 7 %.
5. Vladimir Vysotsky (Folk Singer) - 6 %
6. Alexander Nevsky (Russian Prince) - 4 %
7. Vyacheslav Tykhonov (Movie Star) - 3%
8. Ivan the Terrible (Russian Tzar) - 3 %.
9. Illya Muromets (Fairy Tale Hero) - 2 %.
10. Yermak (Annexed Siberia) - 1 %.
In Russian public mentality an image of reformer is inseparable from the
image rough and powerful man, that once again confirms a female nature of
our population. In this way, A Man of the Millenium was elected Peter the
Alexander Pushkin "the post-mortem gift to Russia of the Peter" takes an
honorary second place, and only four percent ahead of Yuri Gagarin. With
Pushkin everything is clear: the poets always write about love - and Pushkin
was a great lover. Gagarin too has become a sex symbol of the planet because
of his innocent charming smile!
But why Lomonosov is on the fourth place is a mystery. Probably, some people
still believe that our leaders also should be clever.
Also, our people love strong leaders: on the sixth place is Alexander
Nevsky, and then goes Ivan the Terrible (he shares the place with Vyacheslav
Tykhonov as the symbol of Soviet Spy). Illya Muromets is ninth because few
believe that he ever existed. The tenth is Yermak - yet he was a robber, but
still annexed Siberia to Russia.
CPRF'S Extraordinary Congress to Be Held on Sept 4.
MOSCOW, August 16 (Itar-Tass) - The 4th extraordinary congress of the
Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) is to be held in Moscow on
September 4, according to a decision taken by a plenary meeting of the CPRF
Central Committee on Sunday.
CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov told journalists that the delegates to the
congress would discuss the election platform of an electoral bloc or
association which the Communists would join, and approve a Federal list of
such a bloc.
Zyuganov pointed out that the Communists would act strictly in keeping with
the provisions of the law on the election of members of the State Duma lower
house of parliament, the text of which had been specially sent out to all
The CPRF chief is of the opinion that a broad patriotic bloc, a tentative
name of which is "For Victory" and which the CPRF intends to enter, has
chances to get 300 seats in the State Duma. A final decision on the bloc's
name, just as on its emblem, is to be decided by congresses of organisations
which would enter the bloc, Zyuganov said.
The CPRF leader said participants in the CPRF CC plenary meeting discussed
the political situation in the country, describing it as a "critical" one, as
well as the position of the citizens of Russia.
The plenum decided to present a proposal at a State Duma meeting on Monday
about the ensurance of subsistance minimum for every citizen, as well as
proposals to intorduce amendments to the Constitution "to limit the absolute
power of one person".
Russia Lacks Conditions for a State of Emergency-Putin.
MOSCOW, August 16 (Itar-Tass) - Russia's acting Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin, in an interview with the RTR television channel on Sunday night, said
"there are no internal political conditions" for the introduction of a state
of emergency on Russia's territory.
As far as the zone of clashes with terrorists in Daghestan is concerned,
Putin believes, "some special procedure may be introduced there because local
authorities actually do not function any longer".
But "there is no necessity" even for this kind of measure, Putin said. He
voiced confidence that the Federation Council upper house of parliament
"would support us if we come forward with such a proposal but as of now we
shall resolve the problem without any emergency measures".
After the main groups of terrorists are destroyed or edged out of Daghestan,
"mopping-up operations" would take place there. But this is not the problem,
Putin believes. He said the situation in Daghestan is an "abscess, a boil"
which is connected with the unsettled nature of relations with the Chechen
Russia "has been consistently, continuously and very scrupulously
implementing the Khasavyurt Agreements. But our actions have sense only
provided the lawfully elected Chechen authorities will be able to be in
control of the situation on their territory," the acting Premier said. "We
intend to deal only with them," he emphasised. In this connection, Putin said
a meeting between the Russian leadership and Chechen President Aslan
Maskhadov is still planned. In so doing, "we shall proceed from priorities of
Russian statehood," he said.
Russia's acting Premier does not visualise "grounds for a sharp reply to us
on the part of the Chechen leadership". In so doing, he pointed out that the
Chechen people "have the right to uphold their historical interests. But in
this case we have to deal with gangs of international terrorists, not the
In the opinion of Putin, it is essential to create conditions"which would
render safe the life and health of our citizens". After this is done, "we
shall seek a settlement of relations with Chechnya in a calm, weighed and
consistent manner through a negotiating process", he said.
Speaking about an increase in money allowances from servicemen who take part
in combat operations in Daghestan, Putin said a Russian government resolution
on the use of additional incomes for these purposes was in the works.
The acting Premier considers it correct if servicemen who actually
participate in combat operations in Russia's flashpoints should get no lesser
allowances that Russian peacekeepers abroad. The government resolution in
question will be ready on Monday, Putin said.
Date: Sun, 15 Aug 1999
From: Center for Human Rights Advocacy <email@example.com>
Subject: Anti-Semitism in Russia
Dear Mr. Johnson:
Here is an article published today (Aug. 15, 1999) in the Boulder Daily
Camera, titled "Russian Jews Seeing Rise in Incidences of Hate Crimes."
The article is about the Report issued by The Center for Human Rights
Advocacy on August 13, 1999. I have attached a complete copy of the Report
to this message for your and your subscribers information. You have my
permission to include the full Report in Johnson's Russia List, if you so
I would appreciate your including the Camera article in your list.
President & Chief Counsel
THE CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY
3120 6th Street
Boulder, CO 80304-2508
THE ESCALATION OF ANTI-SEMITIC VIOLENCE IN RUSSIA
by William M. Cohen
I. SUMMARY: ANTI-SEMITISM AND PERSECUTION OF JEWS IN RUSSIA HAS
The Center for Human Rights Advocacy (CHRA) has been monitoring and
analyzing social, economic, political, ethnic and anti-Semitism
developments in Russia and the former Soviet Union (FSU) since its
inception in early 1991. In addition, because of the persistent evidence
and reports of anti-Semitism in Russia, the Union of Councils for Soviet
Jews (UCSJ), on which the author serves as a member of the Executive
Committee of the Board of Directors, has steadily increased its monitoring
and reporting on human rights and anti-Semitism in Russia. In cooperation
with the Moscow Helsinki Group, and aided by a grant from the United States
Agency for International Development, trained monitors located throughout
Russia now regularly report to UCSJ and CHRA on this growing phenomenon.
The persistent pattern of anti-Semitism and the pernicious practice of
persecution of Jews in Russia was identified and summarized by CHRA in
March of 1996:
This phenomenon [i.e., steadily growing anti-Semitism in an atmosphere of
economic hardship following the breakup of the FSU] is exploited by
politicians and elected officials for political gain. It is manifested by
acts of discrimination, insults, threats, and violence against Jews, Jewish
property, and Jewish institutions. It is aimed, in substantial part, at
driving Jews out of Russia to make room for Russians in a time of scarcity,
economic distress, and political instability arising out of the destruction
of the Soviet Empire. Moreover, it is clear that there now exists no
Russian governmental agency able or willing to protect Jews from
persecution because of their nationality or religion. The absence of any
meaningful deterrent to such conduct plus the permission given to
anti-Semites by leading politicians and elected officials to engage in such
conduct encourages those who would persecute Jews to do so with impunity.
Since the economic crisis and the collapse of the ruble which struck Russia
in August 1998, anti-Semitic expressions by leading politicians and elected
officials, aimed at demonizing and scapegoating Jews, and, ultimately, at
driving them out of Russia, have dramatically accelerated. This increase
in anti-Semitic rhetoric has been accompanied by a concurrent increase in
the number of violent acts targeting Jews, Jewish property, and Jewish
institutions. Such violence is now frequent and widespread throughout the
vast number of Russia's regions as well as in the major city centers of
Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod, the location of the three
largest population of Jews in Russia.
The frequency and ferocity of the various anti-Semitic violent acts appears
to be accelerating. At the same time, the governmental institutions upon
which Jews and other targeted minorities must rely for protection against
extremist violence are either unable or unwilling to effectively provide
In addition, during the political and economic crises which continue today
in Russia following the August 1998 collapse, militantly anti-Semitic
groups, such as Russian National Unity (RNU), have grown in size and
popularity. Sensing both the impotence and indifference of law enforcement
agencies, these groups have increased the openness of their anti-Semitic
expressions with little or no effective action by government authorities to
deter them. Under these circumstances, Jews in Russia continue to be
vulnerable to anti-Semitic discrimination, violence, and persecution
without any effective recourse to the Russian government at any level for
protection against such prejudicial treatment.
Indeed, the risk to Jews in Russia today is greater than at any time since
the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Russian government has so far
demonstrated that it is both unwilling and unable to deter growing
anti-Semitic violence against its steadily diminishing Jewish population.
Hence, those aimed at driving Jews out of Russia, punishing them because of
hatred of Jews, and scapegoating Jews for a variety of political ends can
generally do so with impunity.
Faced with escalating anti-Semitic violence combined with indifference to
these attacks by the general Russian populace, political exploitation of
the phenomenon and government impotence to protect them, the Jewish
community has resorted to funding its own security for Jewish institutions
and turned to Western governments and non-governmental human rights
organizations for help. Increasingly more Jews are also leaving Russia and
the FSU permanently for Israel, the United States and other countries where
they will be free persecution because of their Jewish religion and
Absent a dramatic change in the economic, social and political climate in
Russia, it is highly unlikely that the current atmosphere of openly and
violently expressed anti-Semitism will diminish any time soon. To the
contrary, the escalating incidents combined with government silence and
ineffective law enforcement, indicate that Jews are at great risk in Russia
today and for the foreseeable future....
15 August 1999
[for personal use only]
Gulags for the Children
Russia's Orphanages Warehouse the Retarded
By Sharon LaFraniere
BUTURLINOVKA, Russia—Styopa Streltsov is determined to stand up. The little
boy steadies himself, clasping a visitor's hands, and straightens his legs
until he is teetering on his feet. He pulls himself up a dozen times more,
cackling with delight. Only when a nurse gently disengages his hands does he
Styopa should be able to stand and walk on his own. But officials at this
state orphanage, a rambling white structure in an isolated farming village a
night's train ride south of Moscow, say no one has time to teach him. There
are 309 mentally disabled children here, 52 of them bedridden, and it's all
the orderlies can do just to feed and wash them.
Nor does the state expect much else. In Russia's terminology, Styopa is
officially labeled an "imbecile." Given up by his parents after he was born
with Down syndrome, he has spent most of his life in tattered diapers in an
iron bed, in a room full of diapered children in iron beds. Now three months
shy of his eighth birthday, he weighs less than 19 pounds and is only 31
inches tall -- the size of a normal 15-month-old.
Asked to describe Styopa's future, Nadezhda Malikova, the orphanage's
blue-eyed head nurse, stood still, startled. "No future," she said.
Much the same can be said for the 29,000 other children in Russia's 148
institutions for the severely mentally retarded. In a society that heavily
stigmatizes the disabled, these children are viewed as dead weight.
Government officials openly say their families should not be burdened with
them, and don't bother to include them on the list of children eligible for
It is not uncommon to see these children straitjacketed, lying naked on
linoleum floors, cowering miserably in corners or penned up in outdoor wooden
shelters at orphanages that hold up to 600 children. Almost a fifth of the
children, gaunt and severely stunted, never get out of bed, state statistics
The most severely retarded are classified as "idiots," helpless and unable to
speak or learn. The others are diagnosed as imbeciles who are unfit for a
classroom and capable of only primitive feelings. Yet some appear to
outsiders to be of average intelligence. Three organizations -- the World
Bank, Mental Disability Rights International and Human Rights Watch --
concluded in studies over the past year that a significant number are
Three decades ago, Western countries began to shut down such institutions in
favor of foster care, group homes and services to keep children in their own
families. Not so here: Russia maintains 2,000 orphanages but has only 239
foster families, most of them in one region, a 1998 state report shows.
The number of orphans is mounting with Russia's social problems: There are
now 160,000, a third more than in 1994, most of whom have at least one living
parent. The U.S. Agency for International Development hopes a $6 million
grant for family and community services will help reduce the flow of children
into institutions, but its three-year program has just begun.
A true picture of the homes for the severely retarded is difficult to obtain.
Journalists are expected to request permission from regional authorities
before any visit, and officials restrict which institutions can be toured.
Nonetheless, visitors can sometimes slip in unnoticed on weekends. The
Washington Post recently visited five institutions, sometimes in announced
visits, and sometimes by simply walking in and asking to see a particular
child. All persons interviewed for this article knew they were speaking to a
The government body responsible for these children is telling in itself. Some
orphans are assigned to the Ministry of Education and given schooling, but
the severely mentally disabled are placed under the department for veterans
and the elderly in the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
"These children are ascribed to the same department as old people because
there is no question of development for them," said Roman Dimenshtein, a
critic of the system who works with families of disabled children in Moscow.
"It's just a question of finishing their lives and passing on to another
How many of the orphans die prematurely is not a question that government
officials will answer. In a 90-minute interview, Raisa Kuznetsova, a labor
ministry official who helps oversee the orphanages, known as internats,
insisted that she did not know the number and could not find out. Asked in
writing, the ministry replied: "Regrettably, the ministry has no data."
"It is worse than a state secret," said Dimenshtein. "No one counts."
At Internat No. 8 in northern Moscow, staff psychiatrist Larisa Bogaeva
compiled a list. In an institution that held at most 100 children, 16 orphans
ages 4 to 15 died from January to September 1998, three child advocates
familiar with the situation said.
Half of the deaths occurred when the orphanage lacked even a competent nurse,
and half after an inexperienced pediatrician joined the staff, the child
advocates said. No autopsies were performed. No one even recorded the
children's weights. The cause of death was listed simply as "deficiencies
incompatible with life."
Bogaeva was so horrified that she took her list of dead children to local
officials. But Anatoly Severny, president of the Independent Association of
Children's Psychologists and Psychiatrists, said no investigation was
Strangely enough, Russia is a society that dotes on children. Each
state-subsidized preschool has its own doctor, and advising parents on how to
properly feed and dress their children is a national hobby.
But the country also has a long tradition of hiding the disabled. After World
War II, for instance, soldiers with amputated limbs were exiled to Valaam
Island, north of the city then known as Leningrad.
Even now, Russian officials question a concept accepted in the West: that the
state should support families with disabled children instead of putting the
youths in institutions.
"Even if such a child is in a family that loves and takes care of him,
nonetheless this family has grief on its soul," said Kuznetsova, the labor
ministry official. "Even if it's a well-intentioned family, they can't give
the specialized education and care that this child might need.
"At home, this child wouldn't have any friends because the parents would be
embarrassed to show them around. We think the system justifies itself. There
may be insufficiencies . . . but we don't have unfed, neglected children in
Child advocates say the pressure on parents to give up disabled children
begins in the maternity ward. Parents who keep their children find themselves
essentially on their own, without services or access to schools. The state
gives about $13 a month to provincial families with disabled children, and
$21 a month to Moscow families. It pays institutions eight times as much.
Many children whose parents surrender them go first to "baby houses." A
morning visit to one in Moscow was telling. In the dayroom, one little boy
eagerly tossed an old plastic bottle across the floor to a glum-looking
orderly seated on a couch. She wordlessly kicked it back three times, then
declared the game over. That was the only interaction between the staff and a
dozen children under the age of 5 in nearly an hour.
By the age of 4, more than four-fifths of the children in the baby houses are
diagnosed as retarded. Those considered only slightly disabled are sent to
Ministry of Education orphanages and given schooling. Severny, of the
association of psychologists, has begun a study of those homes. Of a group of
15 teenagers, he found 12 were misdiagnosed as retarded.
Those classified as more severely mentally disabled end up at institutions
like No. 15 off a busy Moscow highway. Behind its blue iron gates and
concrete walls, a four-story building houses 400 children.
One floor is for the lezhaschiy -- literally, those who are lying down. One
recent Saturday, five of 11 children in one room were straitjacketed so
tightly they could barely roll over. Those who could sit up rocked
rhythmically in their beds -- a motion that child development experts say is
typical of children without any stimulation.
Racing down the overgrown paths was Natasha, an athletic, sociable
17-year-old. Natasha learned to read and write at Ministry of Education
orphanage No. 67.
Had she remained there, she would now be entitled to a one-room apartment
from the state. But two years ago, her diagnosis was changed from slightly
retarded to imbecilic, and she was sent to No. 15. When she turns 18, she
said, she will be transferred to an adult institution "for life."
Natasha's 14-year-old friend, Katya, ran back to their old orphanage two
months ago. Privately, out of sight of the orderlies, she and Natasha
explained the consequences. After Katya was found and returned, they said,
she was punished with repeated injections of aminazine, a tranquilizer that
put her to sleep for days at a time and caused painful cramps.
Ivan Zhigalov, the director of No. 15, declined to be interviewed. After six
months as director, he said, he is ready to leave. "Have had about enough,"
Buturlinovka is set amid southeastern Russia's potato fields, instead of
apartment buildings. But like No. 15 in Moscow, it is home to children whose
diagnoses seem inexplicable.
One June afternoon, a 13-year-old named Yaroslav peppered a reporter with
questions about America and sang a popular love song while the orphanage's
silver-haired director, Sergei Terichenko, watched with a smile. "Some of
these children, if they were brought up in a normal family, you wouldn't even
know the difference between them and a normal child," he said.
Several children call Terichenko "Papa," and he knows many by name. He
refuses to send even some as old as 34 on to adult institutions. "They perish
there," insisted Nina Shteltser, his deputy.
But even Buturlinovka, with its well-intentioned staff, presented arresting
scenes. The 58 children classified as idiots were confined in outdoor pens --
tall wooden, roofed structures enclosed on one side by a narrow slatted
fence. Rusted iron pails in the corners served as toilets.
Girls and boys looked alike: All had shaved heads. One boy, lying on a
blanket, slapped himself over and over with a neighboring boy's hand. Another
boy howled miserably, his pants bunched below his hips. Except when the
director was there, the gates were tied shut, and the children peered out
from the dim interior through three wide openings in the slats.
In one of two "lying-down" rooms inside the orphanage, a little girl named
Marina clambered into a visitor's arms, swimming in her hospital-style gown.
Ten years old, she is no bigger than an average 18-month-old.
Sergei Koloskov, who heads the internationally funded Down Syndrome
Association, is on a lonely crusade to help children like Marina. He showed
the staff at Buturlinovka an album of before-and-after photos of children now
at orphanage No. 8. Koloskov's team, working along with government staff
there, has managed to double the weight of formerly emaciated, bedridden
children and taught many to walk and talk.
"Compare this skeleton to this plump kid," he said, pointing to a photo of
one 9-year-old girl. "These are not unique kids. No miracle. . . . You just
have to know how."
But Koloskov is one reformer faced with thousands of orphans whose fates are
sealed. At the age of about 18, children in institutions like Buturlinovka
move on to institutions like Kandaurovsky, outside the city of Tambov in
There, 310 residents, many of them aged and with obvious psychiatric
problems, aimlessly mill about a two-story building, dressed in ragged
housecoats and slippers.
Director Nikolai Gorbachev, giving an impromptu tour one afternoon, flipped
on the light in a dark hallway. There stood 20-year-old Sveta Matsneva, a new
arrival. "She is our local beauty," the director proclaimed.
Sveta, a pink scarf around her neck, trailed a few steps behind the visitors
for the next half hour. She kept her distance from the woman mumbling to
herself and turning in circles, and from the woman who sat in the dirt yard
and glared at her.
Then, as the visitors unlocked the car door to leave, she seized the moment.
"Please," she said, her voice low and urgent. "I want to be free. Here, you
only walk to the fence. That's all.
"Can you help me pull myself out of here?"
New York Times
August 15, 1999
[for personal use only]
A Russian Who's Still Dancing as Fast as He Can
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
MOSCOW -- Is Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin crazy?
Why else would a lame-duck President -- whose zombie-like public appearances
reinforce fears about his state of mind -- suddenly jettison his latest Prime
Minister, his fourth in 17 months, and name as his political heir an unknown
K.G.B. officer who has no political party, no popular support and the
charisma of a well-mannered Doberman Pincer?
As tempting as the Mad Czar theory may be, there are other explanations for
Mr. Yeltsin's latest gyrations that may be even more disturbing. According to
those who know him well, Mr. Yeltsin probably has a plan, possibly a flawed
plan, which like most of his plans has to do with holding on to as much power
as he can, for as long as he can.
In naming Vladimir V. Putin as his new Prime Minister and preferred successor
last week, Mr. Yeltsin signaled that he is not going to sit by idly while his
opponents, either on the left (the Communists) or those in the political
center sweep up the remnants of his tattered authority, and claim it as their
Just last week Moscow's Mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, who for months now has been
in the Kremlin's "enemies" camp, formed a coalition with a handful of
autocratic governors, which perhaps, and most importantly, may be joined this
week by former Prime Minister Prime Minister Yevgeni M. Primakov, Russia's
most popular political figure.
In dumping former Prime Minister Sergei V. Stepashin, the President
apparently decided that the mild-mannered 47-year-old former commissioner
lacked the gumption to tackle opponents like Mr. Luzhkov. The 68-year-old
President also stated firmly that he intends to leave office in July 2000, as
the Russian constitution requires him to do at the end of his second term.
Many Russians believe him. But in a sign of their deep distrust of their
willful and capricious President, many others are not convinced, fearing, for
instance, a declaration of a state of emergency or some other series of
events that could disrupt the first constitutional transfer of power in
Nor do many Russians necessarily believe that Mr. Putin, 46, will still be
Mr. Yeltsin's preferred choice as a successor by the time the presidential
elections roll around, several months after December's parliamentary
elections. Russian politics are littered with men who, at one time or
another, held the mantle that has now been bestowed on Mr. Putin.
One ace up the President's sleeve could be, oddly enough, Sergei Stepashin,
who served as Prime Minister for 82 days, and who last week passed the
ultimate test of loyalty: In an emotional appearance before his Cabinet, Mr.
Stepashin thanked the man who had just fired him. Now courted by center-right
parties still friendly to the Kremlin, Mr. Stepashin may end up with the
covert backing of the Yeltsin entourage and as a bonus, a popular image as a
man wronged by an erratic czar.
ut Mr. Yeltsin is determined to keep his hand in the elaborate chess game
that is Russian politics. His latest move was described by one analyst as
"castling," where the king and castle swap places. "Yeltsin is very good at
grasping the political situation," said Gavril Popov, a former Moscow Mayor
and a one-time Yeltsin ally in Russia's early democratic movement, in the
weekly newspaper Argumenti I Facti last week. "He finds a decisive solution
which his administration cannot. The level of his physical incapacities
should never be overestimated."
In Prime Minister Putin, Mr. Yeltsin will have a loyal servant -- and a
recent boss of Russia's domestic intelligence service at that -- who will be
more ready than his predecessor to pull the kind of levers of power that
might make even Russia's most brazen regional bosses, an increasingly
independent lot, think twice. Often portrayed as the kingmakers in the coming
elections, they are still sensitive to the granting of funds and the release
of compromising information -- tools at the Kremlin's disposal.
Such a bald use of power does not contradict the widely held view that Mr.
Yeltsin's influence as a political leader is almost exhausted. Nor does it
discount the fact that his team of advisers has now shrunk to the size of a
"family" -- the term used to refer to the small circle of Kremlin insiders
that includes his staff, his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and a smattering of
But power is a tangible commodity in Russia, used every day, in many ways
across the society -- in the way bosses belittle their subordinates, in the
way petty bureaucrats grant or withhold meetings and signatures, in the way
traffic police browbeat drivers to cough up "fines" for tenuous violations.
And Mr. Yeltsin, who has used up advisers and staff like Kleenex, understands
this better than anyone.
Russia's young, imperfect democracy has no system of checks and balances. As
in the days of the czars and commissars, if you lose power, someone else will
grab it. Power-sharing is only on the winner's terms.
When Mr. Luzhkov teamed up with the governors, analysts dubbed the alliance
Russia's new "party of power" -- a label pinned on "Our Home Is Russia," a
political party formed in 1995 by Mr. Yeltsin's Prime Minister, Viktor S.
Chernomyrdin, in reality the home of the then-dominant political
To borrow a phrase from the old Soviet propaganda machine, it is no accident
that Mr. Yeltsin fired Mr. Stepashin after the alliance was forged on Aug. 4,
making his Prime Minister the scapegoat for failing to stop a bandwagon
threatening to slip out of the Kremlin's control. By numerous accounts, Mr.
Yeltsin tried to fire him Aug. 5 but was dissuaded -- by his long-time
adviser, the reformer Anatoly Chubais, among others.
Last Monday the President made his choice.
0100 GMT 990815 – The Price of Arrogance
The recent incursion of Moslem militants into Dagestan appears to be a
stunning tactical miscalculation on the part of rebel leaders Shamil Basayev
and Khattab. Rather than sticking to what had been an effective guerrilla
campaign of kidnappings, murders and hit and run attacks on isolated police
outposts, the rebel leaders have pushed a force of 1,200-1,600 guerrillas
into Dagestan, where they engage in conventional warfare against Russian army
and Interior Ministry forces. The rebels’ unstated goal of disrupting
negotiations between the Russian and Chechen governments may succeed, but
their stated goal of driving out the Russians appears doomed to fail.
The so-called Islamic Peacekeeping Army succeeded in the surprise seizure of
several small towns, where the rebels are now besieged by Russian forces.
While taking defensive positions in towns has provided the rebels with a
force multiplier, it has removed their mobility and handed the advantage of
time to the numerically superior Russian forces. If the Russians can seal off
the towns and any lines of retreat for the rebel forces, they can quickly
build up troops to outweigh the rebels’ defensive advantage. The Russians
have advantages in air power, logistics, heavy equipment, intelligence
gathering and sheer numbers. The Russians can win a war of attrition,
particularly against a conventional foe.
Dagestan is a sparsely populated republic slightly larger than the state of
Maryland, quite a mouthful to bite off for some 1,200 guerrillas using
conventional warfare. The rebels might have succeeded in pursuing a guerrilla
war against Russian forces in the region, giving the rebels a tremendous
force multiplier that would have tied down thousands or tens of thousands of
Russian troops. The rebels could have pursued their stated political goal of
driving the Russians from Dagestan by grinding them down slowly and
insufferably, one demolished checkpoint, jeep or patrol at a time. Instead
the rebels chose to attack directly and en masse, somehow believing that they
could drive eastward, first to capture Buynaksk and then the capitol
Makhachkala, on the Caspian coast. This gambit could only reflect
overwhelming arrogance on the part of the rebel leaders, or a serious desire
At midnight August 12, Russian forces and Dagestani police sealed the
Chechnya-Dagestan border by manning all 60 of the border’s checkpoints.
Nothing goes in or out without a search, and the critical supply route of
Lake Kezenoy-am is now guarded. The rebels are being locked into an
unsustainable defensive position. And although rebel troops have moved in a
steady northeastern trajectory up the Andiskoye Koysu as far as Mekhelta,
it’s not strictly voluntary. Tsumindinsky District was cleared Thursday
evening, meaning the Pakistani contingent is losing Gakko, while the
Dagestani police mopped up Tsumado, Khvani and Echeda. Fighting concentrated
around the villages of Gagatly and Rikvany in Botlikhsky district overnight
August 13-14, during which time Russian forces reportedly launched 19 air
strikes. Not only are the rebels unable to sustain a rear guard action, there
are increasingly fewer places to run and to lose.
The rebels’ defensive warfare may give them a tactical force multiplier, but
attritional warfare exaggerates their materiel and numerical deficiencies.
Over the past few days Russia’s forces have succeeded in destroying or
capturing large quantities of rebel weapons, including two armored vehicles.
At Khvani, police confiscated a critical weapons depot that housed grenade
launchers, submachine guns, a mortar, 90 anti-personnel mines, 20 thousand
bullet cartridges, 200 mines for grenade launcher attachments and 200 mines
for anti-tank weapons. Russian paratroopers also secured commanding terrain
outside Ansalta Thursday night, allowing them to prepare for the second phase
of the Botlikhsky campaign that will begin on Tuesday.
While rebels retreat to fortify the Botlikhsky district, police units and
Russia’s federal forces arrive daily from Murmansk and Stavropol to occupy
the cleared villages. Rebels also face a wave of Dagestani volunteers from
the east, 300 of which reached Godoberi on Thursday morning. Rebels will for
days be preoccupied by regular infantry, police, and volunteers, while OMAN
forces, paratroopers, commandos and engineers choke rebel defenses one by
one. Unless reinforced, Basayev cannot win a war of attrition at this rate.
So what drove Basayev and Khattab to forego traditional and quite effective
guerrilla tactics and attempt to take on the Russian army directly? One
option is that, with plans for talks between the Russian and Chechen
presidents progressing, the urgent need to undermine those talks forced the
rebel leaders into a desperate act of martyrdom. Perhaps the rebels felt they
could both undermine the negotiations and inspire an uprising by taking and
holding territory and inflicting heavy casualties, even if they were wiped
out. However, they could have increased the tempo of guerrilla actions to
undermine the talks, or they could have sacrificed a smaller unit of martyrs
in Dagestan. The rebels should have had a better grasp of the hearts and
minds of the Dagestani public, which is almost universally rejecting their
The other option is that the rebel leaders believed their band of less than
2,000 fighters could actually defeat the Russians and drive them from
Dagestan. This could only have come through the gross underestimation of
Russian capabilities and commitment and the supreme arrogance of the rebels.
Given that Basayev is experienced in battling the Russians, this arrogance is
surprising, unless it was fostered, encouraged and exploited by someone else.
Evidence increases that the rebels had Russian help in mounting their
campaign. First there was the apparent sluggishness in Russia’s buildup of
troops and police in the region, despite intensifying rebel violence and
rhetoric from Moscow politicians. This sin of omission may only have been the
result of the overall degeneration of Russian military preparedness, or it
could have reflected Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s desire not to see a
revival of his personal Vietnam. Suspicions start to mount, however, when the
Russian newspaper Izvestia claimed that high-ranking members of the Yeltsin
administration have been holding a series of secret talks with Basayev,
Khattab and other rebel commanders. The arrest of Chechen envoy Turpal-Ali
Atgeriyev in Moscow by Interior Ministry police inevitably sabotaged his
mission to plan talks between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov
and played into Basayev’s hands in Chechen domestic politics.
Izvestiya interpreted this chain of events as evidence that Yeltsin sought to
foment a war in the North Caucasus in order to justify a state of emergency
and indefinite postponement of presidential and Duma elections. However, all
of this can be written off as a mixture of generic incompetence and unfounded
innuendo. The most damning evidence of Russian complicity in events is the
publicly admitted fact that Russian border guards were withdrawn from the
Botlikhsky and Tsumindinsky districts immediately prior to the rebels’
offensive into Dagestan. Russian troops effectively stepped aside and let the
rebels take the Dagestani towns without a fight, despite clashes with rebels
in Dagestan on August 2 and reports from the Russian Federal Security Service
on August 5 of an imminent rebel offensive.
So did Yeltsin really plan to spin a crisis in Dagestan into martial law in
Moscow? Not voluntarily. Reviving the Chechen debacle is the last thing
Yeltsin would want to do. First, Chechnya was the only integral part of the
Russian Federation to secede, after humiliating the Russian Army, one of the
darkest moments in Yeltsin’s political career. To compound Yeltsin’s shame,
Russia has yet to bring the region under control, and rampant crime and
secessionist movements threaten further crumbling of the Russian Federation.
It is not a region Yeltsin wants prominent in the minds of Russians.
Additionally, reviving a war in the North Caucasus throws his political
future into the hands of his foes – hardliners in the Russian military and
security apparatus. They have no plans of being deployed out of sight and out
of mind to a Dagestani meat grinder, while Yeltsin rules by decree in Moscow.
But if the troops were withdrawn, and Yeltsin didn’t order it, who did? The
only ones who would potentially benefit from stirring up trouble in Dagestan
are Basayev – who obviously didn’t order a troop withdrawal, though he did
exploit it – and the hardliners in Russia’s security apparatus. For the
hardliners, this is a chance to rectify a great wrong – a historic low-point
in Russian power. It is a chance to do so at the political expense of
Yeltsin, while forcing the Russian president to rely on their prosecution of
the conflict. Martial law remains an option, though not necessarily to the
benefit of Yeltsin. And by drawing the guerrillas into open combat, the
military can round up and destroy a group that, dispersed, could have bled
Russian troops endlessly.
Why then would Yeltsin and Basayev cooperate in this, as the alleged meetings
suggest they did? For Yeltsin, he may not have had a choice. We cannot help
but note that Vladimir Putin, the new prime minister and Yeltsin’s pick for
president, served a career in the KGB before rising to the top of its
successor organization, the Federal Security Service. Yeltsin may have
cleverly chosen Putin to exploit his connections in the intelligence
community or, quite possibly, Putin may have been forced upon Yeltsin as part
of a creeping power-grab by the security apparatus. Outgoing Prime Minister
Sergei Stepashin charged that Yeltsin’s hand was forced when he sacked the
Stepashin government. He insisted unnamed others accompanied Yeltsin when he
relieved Stepashin of his job. For Basayev, he may have been playing along
with one scheme, only to have been overwhelmed by another. Basayev,
arrogantly assaulting Dagestan, may have facilitated Yeltsin’s and his own