This Date's Issues: 3677 •
to CDI's Home Page I Return
to CDI's Library
Johnson's Russia List
12 December 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. RFE/RL Russian Election Report: Laura Belin, HOW REAL IS THE
THREAT OF ELECTORAL FRAUD?
2. The Guardian (UK): Simon Pirani, News for sale in Russian votes war.
Journalists are taking sides - and bribes - as business oligarchs back
rival election contenders.
3. From OVR mailing list.
4. US News and World Report: Christian Caryl, An elusive democracy.
As elsewhere in Russia, voters on the Volga wonder what all the fuss
5. The Observer (UK): Amelia Gentleman, Vlad the inheritor. While
Boris Yeltsin's presidency lurches from day to day, his Prime Minister
- the man hotly tipped as his successor - can do no wrong.
6. Baltimore Sun: Kathy Lally, Disenchanted voters, nostalgic appeals,
bitter contests mark Russian democracy Moscow candidates perfect
carpetbagging for Dec. 19 elections.
7. New York Times: Celestine Bohlen, Russia's Desire for a Strong
Hand Rules Politicians' Fortunes.]
RFE/RL Russian Election Report
No. 6, 10 December 1999
HOW REAL IS THE THREAT OF ELECTORAL FRAUD?
By Laura Belin
Representatives of various opposition groups have recently
expressed fears that the Duma election will follow Stalin's famous
dictum: what's important is not how the people vote, but how the
votes are counted. A computerized system that will tabulate
preliminary results quickly after the polls close on 19 December has
aroused special concern (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1999).
TV-Center and NTV aired reports on 4 and 5 December questioning the
reliability of the system and suggesting it is vulnerable to hackers.
Appearing on NTV, Russian Regions Duma faction leader Oleg Morozov, a
senior member of the Fatherland--All Russia bloc, claimed that the
system was used to perpetrate electoral fraud in the parliamentary
and presidential elections of 1995 and 1996. A former KGB officer
interviewed by NTV asserted that the system may contain latent
viruses that could be activated when votes are being counted.
The Central Electoral Commission has sought to assuage such
fears. Its chairman, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, told TV-Center that the
system is sufficiently protected against hackers. In any case, he
argued, votes are counted by hand at every polling station, and the
computerized system will merely speed up the process of compiling
preliminary results. The final results will be tabulated over several
days based on official protocols from the polling stations, so even
if any inaccuracies were introduced by the computerized system, they
would be corrected.
Speaking at a press conference on 7 December, former
presidential adviser Georgii Satarov, who is now president of the
Indem Foundation, agreed that fears concerning the computerized
system are "complete nonsense," since the final results will not be
based on those tabulations.
Nonetheless, there are serious grounds to worry about
electoral fraud. A handbook for election monitors, published recently
by Indem and by the "Fair Elections" Coordinating Center, describes
common techniques for skewing the election results. Most of those
occur long before the results are entered into any computer and even
before the votes are counted. For instance, "mobile" ballot boxes
that are brought to elderly or hospitalized voters can be stuffed.
Toward the end of election day, officials at a polling station can
artificially increase turnout by filling out ballots on behalf of
voters who did not show up. Local election officials can lobby for
certain candidates at polling stations or allow citizens to vote on
behalf of their relatives. Another common practice is to mark extra
boxes on some ballot papers, thereby spoiling a disproportionate
number of ballots cast for the "wrong" candidate or party.
Opposition politicians have repeatedly warned of possible
falsification in favor of the pro-government Unity bloc. They charge
that regional and local officials have been told that the level of
future state funding for various regions may be tied to Unity's
showing in the Duma election.
Such allegations are highly plausible, but it is important to
remember that at least four electoral blocs have support from a
significant number of regional leaders (see "RFE/RL Russian Election
Report," 26 November 1999). Some of the most dubious results from the
1996 presidential election came from regions whose leaders now
support Fatherland--All Russia, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
Experts at Indem also say that the Communist Party stands to benefit
from falsification in rural areas, where heads of electoral
commissions are often sympathetic to the Communists and where
election observers representing other political parties are scarce.
OPINION POLLS RAISE DOUBTS. As state-controlled television channels
trumpet opinion polls showing impressive gains by the Unity bloc,
rival politicians and media sympathetic to Fatherland--All Russia are
increasingly questioning the accuracy of those findings. The Public
Opinion Foundation, headed by Aleksandr Oslon, on 1 December
published a survey showing Unity's support jump from 8 percent to 14
percent in a single week, beating out Fatherland--All Russia for
second place behind the Communist Party.
Media belonging to Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group have
expressed skepticism about Unity's meteoric rise in popularity.
"Segodnya" on 2 December suggested that the Public Opinion Foundation
may have registered some undecided respondents as supporters of
Unity. In the 5 December edition of the analytical program "Itogi,"
NTV showed footage of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, who charged
that polls have become an instrument for influencing public opinion.
The same program included a lengthy interview with Boris Grushin, who
until 1996 conducted polls in Russia regularly as head of the Vox
Populi firm. Grushin called current opinion polls a "lie" and a
"farce," and agreed that some pollsters do attempt to influence
public opinion during election campaigns (although he did not single
out any firm).
Andrei Isaev, a candidate on the party list of
Fatherland--All Russia, was more blunt at a 7 December press
conference in Moscow. He accused the Public Opinion Foundation of
falsifying its poll results to boost the prospects of Unity and
inflict damage on Fatherland--All Russia.
Speaking to "RFE/RL Russian Election Report" on 7 December,
Petr Zalesskii, a sociologist and director of the market research
firm Komkon-Vektor, expressed doubt that any major Russian polling
firm falsifies its results. However, he argued that opinion surveys
are less accurate during election campaigns, and there is cause to
doubt the recent polls. According to Zalesskii, the desire to publish
up-to-date information during a fast-moving campaign invariably
distorts the results. Firms conducting a poll in scores of towns
across the country may give interviewers only two days to collect
data from 10 to 20 local respondents. Under such conditions, it is
nearly impossible to adhere to random sampling methods, Zalesskii
said. Instead, interviewers (who tend to be more educated than the
average voter and sometimes hold local administrative posts) may end
up surveying their friends or acquaintances. LB
The Guardian (UK)
12 December 1999
[for personal use only]
News for sale in Russian votes war
Journalists are taking sides - and bribes - as business oligarchs back rival
election contenders. Simon Pirani reports
It was the last thing Aleksandr Gurnov, head of the Russian television news
agency TSN, needed on a Monday morning. 'Technical problems' at his main
customer, TV-6, one of the country's Russia's national channels, had blacked
out the 9am press digest.
Things rapidly got worse. Just before the 11am news bulletin, part of a
package of 90 minutes' coverage provided by TSN daily under contract, TV-6
engineers came on the optical wire linking the organisations to say: 'We
can't see you.'
'That was strange,' Gurnov said. 'An optical wire either works, or it
doesn't. If you can hear, you can see. I phoned the director of TV-6, and he
asked me over. When I got there, I was told that our contract - covering 90
per cent of the work done by my agency and its 300 employees - was being
The decision to cut the lifeline of Russia's first relatively independent TV
news agency was made last month by Boris Berezovsky, Russia's most powerful
business oligarch, who took control of TV-6 in June.
Gurnov, one of the generation of journalists who pioneered honest reporting
in the heady days of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost, said: 'Taking TSN off the
air was 100 per cent political. The new owners of TV-6 had no intention of
having an organisation outside their control doing news.'
Gurnov and his staff, who are now seeking new contracts, are victims of the
'information war' raging ahead of Russia's approaching elections - to
parliament on 19 December, and for the presidency next summer.
On retiring President Boris Yeltsin's side stand former government minister
Berezovsky, who controls the LogoVaz car dealerships and related companies,
and the owners of oil-rich Alfa Bank. Their chosen parliamentary party is
Unity, headed by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu. Their presidential
favourite is Vladimir Putin, the career-policeman-turned-Prime Minister who
is now prosecuting the bloody war against Chechnya.
The main opposition to Yeltsin, the Fatherland-All Russia bloc headed by
Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, is
backed by the country's biggest oil company, Lukoil, and oligarch Vladimir
In this war, TV is the heavy artillery. The pro-Yeltsin TV-6 joins the most
popular channel ORT, which is 51 per cent state-owned, with Berezovsky as a
key minority shareholder. Its leading investigative journalist, Sergei
Dorenko, regularly lays into Yeltsin's bete noire, Luzhkov.
Luzhkov has sued Dorenko for libel, and parliament has voted that ORT's bank
accounts be seized.
NTV, the second biggest channel, is controlled by Gusinsky's Media Most
group, and is therefore anti-Yeltsin. Its star journalist, anchorman Yevgeny
Kiselev, dishes dirt on Yeltsin and his allies.
This is a war to the death. The financial crash last August devastated
advertising revenues and left media groups struggling. Oligarchs such as
Berezovsky, who had oil interests, were less badly scathed. But Gusinsky's
business empire, the only one based mainly on the media, is in trouble. His
NTV is now fighting a bankruptcy case brought by the state-owned bank,
As in all wars, tactical ceasefires may be arranged at the poor bloody
infantry's expense. It was just such an arrangement - between Berezovsky's
people and their opposite numbers at Lukoil - that settled the TSN affair.
Lukoil is TSN's major shareholder, and Gurnov refused to accept the
termination of the TV-6 contract without Lukoil's agreement.
He said: 'A few days previously, our shareholders reiterated their support
for TSN, but on the Monday everything changed.' TV-6's $3.5 million debt to
TSN was 'restructured', with Lukoil's agreement, leaving all Moscow
speculating about why Lukoil might owe Berezovsky a favour.
A key weapon in this war is the 'article-to-order', items journalists publish
or broadcast for secret cash payments. Such 'orders', long used in battles
between business and/or criminal groups, now feature in electioneering.
'Many journalists are badly paid. Many have succumbed to temptation,' says
political writer Pavel Gutionov, another glasnost veteran and chair of the
Union of Journalists' ethics committee. 'These articles appear in virtually
every issue of some newspapers. A guy from one political campaign team told
me openly that he expects to pay about $5,000 to get a brief item on the TV
Alternatively, media owners hire journalists at inflated salaries with an
unspoken agreement that they will slant stories a certain way. Gutionov says:
'Any correlation between the level of professionalism and pay rates has
disappeared. Professional standards take a hammering.'
The opportunist mercenaries of the information war are westerners who
discreetly offer 'articles-to-order'.
Dmitry Dolgov, chief press officer of Lukoil, said: 'We have been approached
by people claiming to represent major western news organisations - usually
stringers or press agencies rather than official representatives - proposing
to write editorial material, on condition we agree to book advertising.'
The heaviest price in the information war, as in many other wars, is paid by
ordinary people. Gurnov believes their access to honest reporting is now
little better than in Soviet times.
'There is a great deal of independent journalism, but it needs an outlet,' he
says. 'The trouble is the level of concentration of the media in the élite's
Date: Sat, 11 Dec 1999
From: "Dmitri Glinski Vassiliev" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: from OVR mailing list
December 10, 1999
[translated from the e-mail list
THE INADEQUACY OF THE RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MAY HAVE CONSEQUENCES ON A GLOBAL
The leader of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, former Prime Minister
Yevgenii Primakov considers Russian president Boris Yeltsin's response to
his American colleague Bill Clinton in the course of debate between Moscow
and Washington on the Chechen issue to be "not commensurate with the
In the last few days, Mr.Clinton made a tough pronouncement with regard to
Russia in relation to the situation in Chechnya. Boris Yeltsin's response to
the American leader was given yesterday in Beijing, where the Russian
president asserted the multipolarity of the contemporary world and reminded
that Russia is a nuclear power.
In his comment upon this declaration on Friday, at a press-conference in
Moscow, Mr. Primakov remarked that "nuclear saber rattling" is appropriate
only "when you know that someone is planning to attack you." At the same
time, the former prime minister also called president Clinton's own
pronouncement "completely unacceptable".
Mr.Primakov reminded the American president about NATO's recent actions in
Yugoslavia and about the fact that Russia, in conducting its military
operation in Chechnya, acts within the borders of its territory. "There can
be no analogy with Yugoslavia whatsoever, because at that time the air raids
were conducted against the citizens of a different country, and now we speak
about a republic within Russia", emphasized Primakov.
YURII LUZHKOV: RUSSIA'S MULTI-ETHNIC CHARACTER IS ITS ADVANTAGE, NOT ITS
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is ready to support fully the efforts of the
federal government in its struggle against the bandits, but not against the
Mr.Luzhkov emphasized, that he would not have touched upon this except for
"the ultimatum to the inhabitants of Grozny". At present, as Luzhkov
pointed, there are about 45,000 civilians in Grozny. "Will everybody be able
to leave? And if someone does not leave, will they also be exterminated?",
added the Mayor, who believes that "this is not a struggle against
He also expressed his surprise at the fact that no special operations have
been conducted to destroy the chiefs of the Chechen extremists, namely
Basayev and Khattab.
In Mr. Luzhkov's opinion, Russia's government policy as regards inter-ethnic
relations looks "real strange" today. "It is hard to find fault with the
slogans put forward by the country's leadership", said the Mayor, but in
reality the mass-media illustrate not those measures that consolidate the
inter-ethnic relations in Russia, but what destroys them. "It is difficult
to say whether these media reflect the government's policy or the oligarchs'
policy", said Luzhkov.
Meanwhile, Luzhkov expressed his confidence that Russia's multi-ethnic
nature is "its advantage, and not its fault".
THE KREMLIN HAS DEPRIVED RUSSIA OF DEMOCRACY
Yurii Luzhkov, Moscow Mayor and one of the leaders of the Fatherland-All
Russia movement, believes that democracy in Russia "does not exist any
On Saturday, Luzhkov told the journalists that the democratic developments
that began in Russia in early 1990s have ended in complete failure. For
this, he laid blame with the current authorities, which, in Luzhkov's words,
have become an [oppressive] "regime".
In explaining his reasons for such a strong-worded pronouncement, the Moscow
Mayor mentioned "the unprecedented intervention in the electoral campaign on
the part of the highest levels of power and the presidential administration,
their support for some of the electoral alliances and pressuring of some
others, the use of dirty electoral techniques and a de-facto introduction of
censorship in the mass media".
"Democracy and the freedom of speech were our only acquisitions over the
decade of the so-called reforms. Regrettably, even these ones have been
lost," said the Mayor of Moscow.
Addressing journalists from a German and an American TV companies, he said:
"These are the last days when we can talk to you and discuss these
US News and World Report
December 20, 1999
[for personal use only]
An elusive democracy
As elsewhere in Russia, voters on the Volga wonder what all the fuss is about
By Christian Caryl
SARATOV--It's election season, and Marina Aleshina, 34, is on the stump. On
Mother's Day in Russia, she has turned up at the House of Culture in a
hardscrabble industrial town on the edge of her district, not far from the
Volga River. She patiently waits her turn, after the folk singers and the
little girls in hot pants dancing to "Mambo No. 5," and then ascends the tiny
stage, which is decorated with balloons in the red, white, and blue of the
Russian flag. Introducing herself, she tells the audience: "If I am elected
to the State Duma, I will defend the interests of mothers and children." It's
over in less than a minute, for she knows that people don't want to hear
about politics. After the show, she hangs around to press the flesh, nodding
patiently as pensioners tell her their problems.
It's the kind of picture that gives heart to those who still harbor hope for
Russia's future. But democracy on the Volga, as throughout Russia, remains
far from perfect. To many observers, the elections to the State Dumaâ€“the
lower house of the Russian parliamentâ€“that are taking place across the
world's biggest country on December 19 are evidence that Russia's 10-year
experiment in democracy is moving forward, however haltingly. Perhaps.
The rough-and-tumble electoral battle for control of the next Duma isn't
pretty, with the main struggle among the powerful forces of the Kremlin, the
Communists, and the centrist Fatherland Party of former Prime Minister
Yevgeni Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. "These are the third Duma
elections in a row. That's a major achievement," says Michael McFaul, a
Russia expert at Stanford University. "This is the longest-standing electoral
body in 1,000 years of Russian history."
Few places would seem to offer a better reason for optimism than the Saratov
Region, a province of 2.7 million people. Its position astride the Volga, a
centuries-old trade route, gives it a tradition of commercial pragmatism and
ethnic tolerance. The general economic malaise cuts less deep here: 85
percent of companies have been privatized, foreign investment is trickling
in, and local officials are looking forward to a healthy rebound after last
year's financial crisis. There are varied news sources and political parties.
As a sign of its progressive outlook, the province even has a law, unique in
the country, that allows the private purchase and sale of land. No wonder the
province's governor, Dmitri Ayatskov, an ally of Boris Yeltsin, has a
reputation as a reformer. "We definitely have democracy in Russia today," he
says, "and there's even more of it than in the United Statesâ€“too much,
On closer examination, though, this showcase of Yeltsin-era pluralism reveals
some troubling shortcomings. And it provides useful insights into Russia's
political culture as the country prepares for the post-Yeltsin era.
Democracy? Most Saratovites shrug. "In our region, there is no democracy, and
in principle there can't be," says environmentalist Olga Pitsunova. "We're
ruled by our governor. He's the local czar, prince, and god." Alexander
Solzhenitsyn would agree. In a televised interview on Russian TV, the writer
recently described the ruling system in Russia today as a "mixture of anarchy
and feudalism," with the country's 89 regional leaders cast in the role of
Grounds for an audit. Would the media ever criticize the governor?
Saratovites react with incomprehension to the question. And no wonder. Not
only does he control the licensing of local news outlets, but his government
also runs the leading local TV network, a crucial source of regional news.
Journalists know that critical reporting won't land them in jail, but it
might get them in trouble with the tax authorities, who, thanks to Russia's
contradictory laws, can always find grounds for an auditâ€“or worse.
As for the economy, the government no longer directly owns many companies,
but it still has many ways to make sure that they do what it wants. Even in
ostensibly "privatized" firms, the state may still own as much as 49 percent
of the stock, usually enough to block important decisions or to determine
executive appointments. Even when those shares are technically owned by the
federal government, in practice it's the governor who decides whether
companies get cheap loans, tax breaks, or other benefits. Says Nikolai
Vladimirov, the province's minister of property and bankruptcy: "The
governor's word has the decisive effect." If the governor's unapologetic
interventionism often has beneficial effects, there's also a more ominous
side: Saratovites tell of former business allies cut down to size with red
tape after falling out with Ayatskov.
Few Saratovites, though, seem disturbed by the governor's strongman approach.
"He gets the job done," says ecologist Pitsunova. Indeed, polls and election
outcomes around Russia suggest that given the choice, voters prefer effective
authoritarians to ineffective democrats. It's an attitude, say pollsters,
that's also conspicuous among the youngâ€“contrary, perhaps, to Western
expectations. Alexander, a well-dressed, English-speaking 19-year-old
studying at a college for future civil servants, expresses a view that's
surprisingly typical: "I simply want tough, strong hands at the helm of the
state. We're tired of chaos." His ideal president would be a combination of
former KGB agent and present Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, former general
Alexander Lebed, and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, not exactly a
democratic gene pool. And he praises the governor's forceful leadership. "We
don't have a culture of the rule of law, of parliamentary ethics," argues
Ayatskov for his part. "So who will educate? The governor, along with the
institutions of power."
Absence of ideology. That may be an effective path for running Russia, but it
may not be the most obvious recipe for the creation of democratic
institutions such as a multiparty system. Parties have little to do with
ideas and everything to do with "strong personalities," who often group
together in extended clans that have little or no ideological glue. Says
Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "The next
Duma will consist more of representatives of the governors than of the
Opponents like Nikolai Semenets, regional leader of the opposition Fatherland
Party, complain that "the powers that be are using all their resources
against us." The dirty work, claim Fatherland members, is often handled by
low-level bureaucrats on instructions from above. In one case, a university
director tried to sabotage a planned Fatherland meeting with student voters;
in another, TV officials held back a taped appearance by a candidate for
weeks. Marina Aleshina, who is on the party ticket, was allegedly manhandled
at one campaign venue on the orders of a local administrator. And party
officials say they're especially worried by their underrepresentation on
local electoral committees, which count the votes.
Not that Fatherland is above reproach, since its ranks include some of the
most authoritarian governors in Russia. Still, it is natural to wonder
whether Russia's shortcomings are growing pains on a path to liberalization
or examples of a creeping rollback of democratic values.
The Observer (UK)
12 December 1999
[for personal use only]
The Observer Profile - Vladimir Putin
Vlad the inheritor
While Boris Yeltsin's presidency lurches from day to day, his Prime Minister
- the man hotly tipped as his successor - can do no wrong
By Amelia Gentleman
There are no jokes about Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, a fact
which is remarkable in a country whose enthusiasm for scathing political
humour is unrivalled. Dismissed as a faceless bureaucrat on his appointment
in August, in the space of a few months Putin has been successfully
transformed into an iron leader, the man most people want to lead Russia when
President Boris Yeltsin finally dies or departs from office.
Despite Yeltsin's protestations that his heart is working 'like a clock', the
past few months have seen him yo-yoing between his hospital and his dacha,
rarely putting in an appearance at the Kremlin, wheezing, croaking and
visibly on his last legs. By contrast, Putin looks like a man in control of
his destiny, basking in the successes of his main political project, the war
in Chechnya. A recent opinion poll suggested that if elections were to be
held today, Putin would waltz into power triumphantly, with an approval
rating of somewhere between 60 and 75 per cent.
Most of Moscow's Kremlin-watchers are embarrassed by Putin's metamorphosis,
having written him off as a serious contender from the start. When Yeltsin
petulantly threw out his last government in August and appointed Putin as his
fifth prime minister in 17 months, Russians couldn't decide whether to be
amused or appalled. Yeltsin's exuberant description of his qualities and
potential certainly inspired amusement. Putin was the man best equipped to
'renew the great country, Russia, in the the twenty-first century,' Yeltsin
declared, an eyebrow-raising claim to make about an untested unknown, who
never in his life had been elected to any position.
Some political analysts said the appointment of this former KGB colonel
smacked of desperation, a last-ditch attempt by the ailing Yeltsin to
guarantee himself a safe retirement and protect the interests of his inner
circle. Others wearily concluded that Yeltsin was simply rearranging the
Yeltsin's suggestion that Putin was a realistic candidate to succeed him was
interpreted as yet another sign of his woeful mental decline. Pundits warned
that, in any case, a seal of approval from such an unpopular president was as
good as the kiss of death for Putin's political ambitions.
But determined to boost Putin's chances, the Kremlin hurled the full weight
of government-friendly media behind Putin (backed by pro-Kremlin oligarchs)
and began a rebranding campaign. The Putin promoted was no longer 'grey', but
'steely'. A poor public speaker, he was taught how to talk in clipped,
sentences, masking his inarticulacy with an immensely popular, no-nonsense
style, reinforcing his image as a doer, not a talker. His most memorable
soundbites have been his coarsest. Pledging to track down Chechen rebels, he
promised 'to wipe them out, even on the toilet'. Launching a campaign against
graft this month, he said corrupt officials would be 'squashed like rats'.
The Kremlin has greatly helped its protégé by launching a bitter,
scandal-mongering campaign against potential rivals in the presidential race,
especially those who pose a threat to the Kremlin-élite. The battle for
ratings in Moscow has been every bit as vicious as the campaign raging in
Caucasus. State-run newspapers and television stations have been called in to
crush Putin's opponents. His predecessor, Yevgeny Primakov, is depicted as a
frail has-been, while Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov is painted as a untrustworthy
And Putin has worked hard to further his own cause. Presenting the war in the
separatist region of Chechnya as an 'anti-terrorist operation', in the wake
of the terrifying apartment-bombing campaign, he has not only avoided the
public-relations catastrophe of Russia's last war in the region, but has
cynically used the brutal battle as a platform for his own political
For someone who is a complete novice to frontline politics, he has excelled
himself. By highlighting the military's battle with rebels, Putin has managed
to distract the public from dwelling too long on the country's other nagging
problems: the crumbling economy, dodgy Kremlin bank accounts in Switzerland,
the country's rotting infrastructure, unpaid wages and overdue pensions. The
Prime Minister has won himself such unanimous support on the Chechen issue
that any politician who dares to voice doubt about the war does so at his
peril, and risks being branded a traitor.
The son of a locksmith, Putin was brought up in St Petersburg and studied in
the prestigious law faculty at Leningrad University, where former tutors
remember him as an otlichnik, a model pupil. Fellow students attest that he
was sensitive, preferring the library to parties. This Putin blushed at crude
language and several students remember his loud weeping at the funeral of a
teammate, killed during a martial arts contest.
Any trace of that sensitivity was stamped out when he was recruited to work
for the KGB and posted to East Germany, where he spent most of the next 15
years picking up the tricks of a trade that were to prove useful when he
moved to the Kremlin. Then in the early Nineties, he switched to politics and
emerged as aide to St Petersburg's liberal mayor, Anatoly Sobchak.
The race to find kompromat (compromising material) on Putin has dredged up
some moments from his time in the notoriously corrupt St Petersburg
administration. There are stories of fraudulent export licences granted for
personal gain, of abuse of position to benefit from privatisation ventures,
of a villa in Benidorm bought with dubious money. But the stories are
inconclusive and attempts to blacken his name are drowned out by the chorus
of approving voices.
It was only after his move to Moscow in 1996 that Putin's extraordinary
ascent began when he was befriended by Yeltsin's all-powerful daughter
Tatyana Dyachenko and other Kremlin insiders. Within two years, he had been
appointed to head the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB.
His personal life is equally poorly sketched in. Colleagues describe him as
an extremely private person and very little is known about his family. At
some point, Putin married the sister of a friend from university and had two
daughters. Neither of his parents survived to see his rise to the top. His
mother died a year ago, his father died a week before he was appointed Prime
Minister. One thing is clear and that is that Putin's shrewdest achievement
has been to portray himself as all things to all people. In this, he has
offered contradictory versions of himself to the electorate - a staunch
nationalist ready to strengthen the Army and restore Russia as a great power;
a committed democrat determined to push forward reform; a fervent proponent
of order (but not necessarily law); a spymaster willing to crack down on
It is simply his image as a decisive, strong leader that matters, pollsters
argue. Explaining his soaring ratings, one commented recently: 'People don't
want miracles, they just want order and Putin has given the impression that
he can provide that.'
But from the point of view of Yeltsin and his Kremlin associates, Putin's
most attractive characteristic is his loyalty. One former colleague said he
had risen to the top 'by acting as a loyal servant and showing 100 per cent
loyalty and devotion to his superiors'. As the Yeltsin family grows anxious
about their fate after his departure, Putin's apparent manageability is
becoming more reassuring
The one hurdle for both Putin and Yeltsin is the a yawning gulf that
stretches between now and the 4 June presidential elections, plenty of time
for Putin's ratings to tumble. 'His popularity now has an emotional, not
rational, basis, which will be very hard to maintain,' political analyst
Andrei Rybov warns. Ultimately, Putin's fate will be tied to his war's
continuing success, which, with the absence of any clear endgame, is far from
Wholly dependent on the support of the Kremlin, Putin is also vulnerable to
the whimsical moods of the President. Yeltsin is notoriously resentful of
popular ministers and Putin has already endured several rumours that he is
about to be sacked. His recently announced campaign against corruption also
risks making his Kremlin backers feel nervous, though realistically there is
little time for them to nurture another successor.
As winter stretches ahead, Putin can do nothing but grit his teeth and dig in
for a relentless struggle, both in Chechnya and at home.
Family: Son a locksmith. Married (two daughters, aged 13 and 14)
Educated: Studied at the law faculty of Leningrad University
Career: Recruited to KGB; posted to East Germany. Mayoral aide, St
Petersburg. Moved to Moscow as head of Federal Security, successor to KGB.
Hobbies: Sport ('fighting and judo'), literature and music
11 December 1999
[for personal use only]
Disenchanted voters, nostalgic appeals, bitter contests mark Russian democracy
Moscow candidates perfect carpetbagging for Dec. 19 elections
By Kathy Lally
Sun Foreign Staff
TULA, Russia -- The liberal candidate spent his radio time singing soulful
ballads to the electorate. The Communists have been relentlessly repeating
that life was better when they ran it (ignoring the fear, repression and
travel restrictions). The mayor of Moscow appeared and majestically presented
a tractor to an orphanage.
Russia is on the campaign trail, with elections Dec. 19 for the State Duma,
the more influential lower house of parliament, and strange things are
Tula, a city of about 500,000 people a three-hour drive south of Moscow, has
been famous for its weapons manufacturing for more than 300 years. Known as
the home of the great writer Leo Tolstoy, who lived nearby at Yasnaya
Polyana, Tula is as Russian as the beautiful brass tea samovars that have
always been made here.
Today, in the still-evolving age of democratic elections, its politics are
quintessentially Russian, too.
In some ways, the coming election is being bitterly contested, as a preview
of next June's presidential race, which will determine what kind of Russia
emerges in the wake of Boris N. Yeltsin, who has dominated politics this
At the same time, many voters have become disenchanted with the results of
democracy -- they see mostly poverty and corruption. They feel so powerless
to have any effect on what's going on in government that they are paying
little attention to who is running for what.
"Basically, I don't trust anyone," said Tatyana Zimina, a 40-year-old mother
of two who works in a Tula market. "I haven't thought about the candidates. I
don't even know if I'll vote. Nothing they say will make any difference to my
life. I'll go on, struggling for survival."
So maybe Sergei A. Nikolsky was right to say absolutely nothing during the 3
minutes of free radio time guaranteed him under Russian election law. He sang
songs instead. Nikolsky, who doesn't live in Tula, arrived from Moscow to run
for a Tula seat in the Duma. He represents Yabloko, the liberal party led by
Grigory A. Yavlinsky.
Though this would be called carpet-bagging in the United States, it has
quickly become accepted practice here. Moscow politicians are turning up in
remote provinces all over the country to run for the Duma. Often, they're
welcomed, with the local people assuming someone with Moscow connections
might wield more influence for them than one of their own.
"We're in favor of legality and a favorable investment climate," Nikolsky
said in a late-evening interview, while his guitar player practiced just
outside his office door. "And we offer candidates who have not been connected
to power -- the current power has discredited itself to a large degree."
Nikolsky said he has met about 2,000 of the 462,000 voters in the district,
which includes the city and its environs. He has also been distributing
leaflets and calendars, showing three grim faces: his, Yavlinsky's and that
of the former prime minister, Sergei Stepashin. "Support Tula," the slogan
says, "Raise up Russia. Vote for Decency and Professionalism."
"And we have a billboard in the street," Nikolsky said proudly.
Nikolsky, 49, works in Moscow as an agricultural adviser to the Federation
Council, the upper house of Parliament. It takes some prodding before he
reveals that he chose to run in Tula because he thinks the regional governor,
Vasily Starodubstev, is vulnerable on agricultural issues.
Starodubstev, a Communist, was one of the leaders of the 1991 coup that
toppled Mikhail S. Gorbachev and eventually the Soviet Union. And he is one
of the leaders of the national Communist Party ticket. As a governor, he is a
member of the Federation Council and is on the national ticket only to draw
votes to the Communists. He is expected to hand over his Duma seat to another
candidate, rather than resign as governor, if elected.
Though Nikolsky isn't running directly against him, he hopes to diminish
Starodubstev's influence on Tula politics. Nikolsky said Starodubstev's
ill-advised agricultural schemes were ruining the region.
"For the last two years, he's been growing corn for cattle feed," he said.
"Corn doesn't grow well in this climate. It's too cold here. In the last two
years, cattle herds have dropped by 20 percent because of this."
Nikita S. Khrushchev, the late Soviet leader, had tried growing corn here in
the 1960s, and it didn't work then. "The governor should read his history
books," Nikolsky said.
None of that is in Nikolsky's campaign literature. "I'm avoiding emotion," he
said. He's relying on his singing voice instead.
Half of the Duma's 450 seats are filled by candidates running in single
districts, as Nikolsky is. The other half are filled by party lists. Each
party fields a list of candidates, the voters cast their ballots for the
parties they support, and the parties get a proportion of the remaining 225
Duma seats according to the proportion of the vote they receive. A party has
to capture at least 5 percent of the vote nationally to qualify.
In the last parliamentary election in 1995, Tula proved itself characteristic
of the greater population, with the results here closely matching the nation
as a whole.
Nationally, Communists took 22.7 percent of the vote; Tula gave them 22.52
percent. Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist party won 11.4 percent
nationally, and 13.46 from Tula. Yabloko got 7.02 percent, with 5.33 percent
This time around, Zhirinovsky is expected to plummet, Yabloko is expected to
improve a few points and the Communists are expected to lose some ground.
Stanislav Kupriyanov, director of ideology and head of the Communist campaign
in Tula, expects a difficult battle. Communists are in power in Tula, but
people are very poor. He's afraid voters will blame Communists instead of
"First of all, we talk about the achievements we had under communism," he
said. "And then we talk about what the population has now."
Any mother has only to recall the free medical care, the free pioneer camps
for children and the other benefits, and she'll vote Communist, Kupriyanov
But isn't it dangerous, dwelling on the past? Won't people also be reminded
"Well, we're not saying it was 100 percent perfect," Kupriyanov said. "We
made mistakes. But we have experience. We have knowledge. If we return to
power, we would make our country as commanding of respect as yours. The West
is afraid of Communist power because we know how to make our country
Kupriyanov, the 44 year-old Communist, says he is working on a master's
degree -- on the problems of small and medium businesses.
"It's no contradiction," he said. "Our party knows very well that without
small and medium businesses, we won't survive. It was one of the mistakes of
the Soviet Union, putting the state in control of everything."
New parties have appeared this time around, including one led by Moscow Mayor
Yuri M. Luzhkov and Yevgeny M. Primakov, another former prime minister. Their
party, called Fatherland, is expected to win some of the Communist
Yeltsin allies are nervous about Fatherland's appeal, and on a recent Sunday
evening, Sergei Dorenko, host of a news program on the national network,
accused Luzhkov of involvement in the murder of Paul Tatum.
Tatum, an American, was fighting with the city of Moscow for control of the
Radisson Hotel in Moscow. In 1996, he was shot in an apparent contract
killing near the hotel. The murder has not been solved.
After Dorenko's broadcast, Fatherland, which had been gaining on the
Communists, slipped 6 percentage points in Tula, according to Fatherland's
Fatherland had been doing quite well here, emphasizing that Luzhkov and
Primakov were men of deeds, not simply words. Recently, Luzhkov appeared here
and gave a poverty-stricken orphanage a used tractor to help the home to grow
its own food.
"Yuri Luzhkov knows how to put Moscow in order," said Gennady Yevsyukov, head
of the party here. "He can do the same for Russia. And Yevgeny Primakov
demonstrated he's smart enough to manage the country in a critical moment."
Russia's election law guarantees candidates free radio and television time,
and newspapers are required to print information just as the candidates
submit it. Newspapers that receive government money, as many in the provinces
do, are prohibited from favoring one candidate over another. This has
effectively shut down campaign coverage, because editors are unsure how the
law will be interpreted.
"That's what worries me as a journalist," said Tamara Puzanova, managing
editor of Tula Izvestia. "The development of democracy is suffering.
Individual voices of the people and of journalists are not being heard."
New York Times
December 12, 1999
[for personal use only]
Russia's Desire for a Strong Hand Rules Politicians' Fortunes
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
MOSCOW -- With a week to go before Russia elects its next Parliament and
rushes headlong toward next summer's presidential election, the national
political debate can be summed up in two words: mud and war.
If Russians turn on their television sets, they can watch scenes from the
battlefields of Chechnya, where the Russian military has flattened much of
the landscape in pursuit of separatist guerrillas, or they can be treated to
a steady barrage of televised insults and slugfests, as Russia's warring
political camps do their best to discredit one another with accusations
ranging from ordinary theft to treason and murder.
That was not the way things looked three months ago when Yevgeny M. Primakov,
a former prime minister and a seasoned diplomat, stepped back into national
politics, joining a loosely organized electoral alliance with the soothing
name of Fatherland -- All Russia. Back then, Primakov, now 70, looked ready
to ride above Russia's churlish politics and emerge -- if he decides to run
-- as the leading contender in the race to succeed President Boris N.
Observers explained Primakov's high popularity ratings as a sign of the
nation's need for a "father figure" and its yearning for social stability.
But the war in Chechnya has changed all that, shifting the focus to long-held
hopes for a "strong hand," a leader who can restore order at home and
Russia's greatness abroad.
It is the war and the feelings it has unleashed that have led to a sudden
surge in popularity for Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, a dour 47-year-old
former K.G.B. officer, who was a political unknown when he was chosen by
Yeltsin in August to head his latest government and run next summer as his
Not only does Putin now top the opinion polls, but he has also sprouted
coattails, which have pulled up the ratings for another new political bloc,
known as Unity and nicknamed Bear, which was concocted by Kremlin strategists
as a rival to Primakov's bloc.
Now Primakov, his political fortunes slipping, is having to wade, albeit
gingerly, into the nasty political battles that have clouded Russia's
political choices as the nation moves inexorably into the post-Yelt sin era.
Known in the West as the hard-line negotiator from the old Soviet school,
Primakov, a Middle East expert who once ran Russia's foreign intelligence
service, is no shrinking violet. But on a recent campaign stop in the
southern Russian city of Voronezh, he did not demonstrate the kind of killer
instinct that Russian politics now seem to require.
Answering questions from a mostly elderly audience, Primakov started with a
gentlemanly attack on his archfoe, the financier Boris A. Berezovsky, who is
the force behind a notorious Sunday night television program that has for the
last month mercilessly attacked and ridiculed Primakov and his top ally, the
mayor of Moscow, Yuri M. Luzhkov.
"How do I relate to Berezovsky?" Primakov asked. "Badly, and I have chosen
the kindest word." He went on to quote an interview in which Berezovsky said
he would leave Russia if Primakov was elected president. "I'll agree to
that," the former diplomat said, to loud applause.
At another stop, at a retirement home, Primakov paid homage to Russia's
senior citizens. "I say this as one who is not so young himself, and maybe
will be joining you not so long from now," said the candidate, smiling at his
own self-deprecating remark.
According to recent polls, the Kremlin-orchestrated campaign against Primakov
and his allies has already cost his alliance the lead in the parliamentary
elections -- in which one half of the chamber's seats will be filled from
party lists. Instead, the Communist Party has moved back into first place,
and according to some polls, Unity has overtaken Fatherland -- All Russia.
But Russian politics are a fickle business, as the last year has shown. In
January, Luzhkov looked like the man to beat in the preliminary jostling for
the Kremlin. Then it was Primakov, and now the lead is Putin's to lose, which
he easily could if the military campaign in Chechnya bogs down, and too many
Russian soldiers are killed.
In a transitional period like this one, much depends on power -- who has it,
and who is likely to claim it. Since the days of the czars and commissars,
Russian officials have slavishly tuned into the fortunes of their leaders,
ever ready to jump ship before it goes down.
But at this stage, Putin, the Kremlin's first choice, is the man most heavily
courted by politicians of all stripes; his conduct of the war is being
praised on the right by free-market liberals like Anatoly B. Chubais, and on
the left by leaders of the Communist Party. Putin is a man of few words, but
some of them -- like his coarse threat to track down the Chechen rebels into
their "outhouses" -- have been well chosen to correspond to the toughening
But many voters also now prefer him to Primakov because, they say, of his
relative youth, his energy and his decisive actions.
"Putin is a personality whose thinking is more modern, more lively," Irina V.
Veniaminova, a 36-year-old entrepreneur who now runs her own company, making
and repairing leather clothes, said during Primakov's campaign stop in
Voronezh. "I read an astrologer recently who said that in two or three years,
Russia will have a young, energetic leader. That is what I hope for."
But like many people of her generation, Mrs. Veniaminova is so disgusted by
Russian politics that she says she plans to stay away from the polls on Dec.
19. The people who are more likely to vote are the older generation, who make
up a significant part of the electorate in Russia's "red belt" -- a region in
central and southern Russia that has traditionally voted for the Communists.
On his tour in Voronezh, Primakov, who included Communists in his short-lived
government last year, made a point of emphasizing his sympathy for the
Communist Party's mainstream leaders. His program, as he outlined it, also
straddles the fence between left and right, calling for selective
renationalization in cases where private ownership does not correspond to
Advisers say Primakov has been shaken by the attacks against him in the
media, particularly on ORT, a top channel controlled by Berezovksy, who is
closely associated with members of Yeltsin's family and inner circle.
Luzhkov has received the brunt of the attacks, including allegations that he
was behind the killing in Moscow three years ago of an American businessman,
Paul Tatum. But Primakov has also been a target -- taunted because of his age
and even attacked for his diplomacy, which was recently portrayed as having
sold out Russia's interests to the West.
"We were expecting something," said Andrei Kokoshin, a former Kremlin
security adviser who has joined Fatherland -- All Russia as a military
affairs adviser. "But it is hard to avoid being surprised by the ferocity. At
first our people were in shock, but now they are furious, and consolidating
At this point, Fatherland -- All Russia is still likely to win a sizable
number of seats in Parliament, maybe as much as 20 percent, or at least
enough to play a role in efforts to change the Russian Constitution, efforts
that are expected in the months leading up to next summer's presidential
But mainly, the parliamentary results will determine the shape of the
presidential election, the first round of which will be held in June. Since
August, Primakov has stated repeatedly that he will decide to run only after
Parliament is chosen. But his diplomatic diffidence, which has never been far
below the surface, seems more pronounced these days.
"My family is against it," he told voters in Voronezh. "My wife is against
it. My grandchildren are against it. I still have not made up my mind."