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Johnson's Russia List
19 December 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Yeltsin Hopes for Pro-Govt Majority in New Duma.
2. Reuters: Yeltsin, Putin Heap Praise on KGB and Successors.
3. Itar-Tass: Cec Chair Says Russian Election System Ready for Duma
4. Ha'Aretz newspaper (Israel): Isabella Ginor, But Who's Counting?
5. The Times (UK): Antony Beevor, 'The conflict in Chechnya is full of
paradoxes and distorted parallels with Stalingrad - and the civilians are
likely to pay the same terrible price'
6. The Guardian (UK): Ian Traynor, Astrologers make a fortune selling
secrets of the stars to Moscow's powerbrokers.
7. The Independent (UK): Patrick Cockburn, The psychology of victors.
The Chechen campaign is a brutal but convincing display both of military
power and government resolve.
8. THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (Japan): Alexander Tsypko, VICTORY TO GO TO
RUNNER-UP IN DUMA POLL.
9. BBC: Bridget Kendall, The pride of the bear.
10. The Guardian (UK): Tycoon seeks a safe haven in Duma. Lindsey Hilsum
joins the campaign trail of Boris Berezovsky, the country's most unlikely
candidate for MP.
11. Yuliy Baryshnikov: Re: 3691-Elections99.com.
DJ: I agree with Baryshnikov that skepticism is warranted about
Elections99.com. Any further information on this?}
Yeltsin Hopes for Pro-Govt Majority in New Duma
MOSCOW, Dec 18 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin, who has stayed away from
Russia's election fray, hopes the poll will return a legislature friendly to
his current favourite, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a top aide said on
Campaigning is banned by law on Saturday ahead of Sunday's election to the
State Duma lower house of parliament but Yeltsin's press secretary, Dmitry
Yakushkin, left little doubt about the preferences of his boss.
"Without breaching today's limitations, I would like to say that he (Yeltsin)
backs the prime minister," Yakushkin told Ekho Moskvy radio.
"He would like the premier whom he backs and trusts to have an effective
faction in the Duma...He hopes that a pro-government majority which backs the
current prime minister will be formed in the Duma."
Putin, Yeltsin's preferred successor, openly backs the Unity (Yedinstvo)
grouping led by popular Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The grouping was launched by the Kremlin two months ago to counter the
Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) bloc, led by Yeltsin's foes. The move has proved
a success, according to opinion polls published before a Thursday ban on them
Boosted by Putin's soaring ratings and helped by incessant friendly coverage
on state television, Yedinstvo had overtaken OVR in the latest opinion polls.
Yedinstvo, with 16 to 21 percent support in polls, held a firm second place
after the Communist Party, the largest grouping in the outgoing Duma, which
was at 17 to 24 percent.
OVR, led by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who on Friday announced
plans to run for the presidency in 2000, was third on between nine and 12
Two other parties may give backing to Putin if they clear a five percent
barrier to get into the new Duma on party lists -- The Union of Right-Wing
Forces, made up of pro-Western technocrats, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's
But it was far from clear whether their combined votes would outweigh
possible cooperation between the Communists and OVR, much feared by the
Kremlin after four years of fighting with the current Communist-dominated
Half of the 450 Duma seats are being contested through national party lists
and the rest in individual constituencies.
YELTSIN DISLIKES "MEDIA WARS," OUTGOING DUMA
The deeply unpopular Yeltsin made no personal comments on the election
campaign and Yakushkin said he disliked the "information wars" which raged in
the media ahead of the poll.
The media battle was unprecedented in Russia as day after day, the ORT and
RTR TV channels -- the only truly nationwide stations -- attacked OVR leaders
on all fronts. RTR is owned by the state, which also holds 51 percent of ORT.
At the same time, every move by Shoigu and Putin was lavishly and favourably
OVR responded with similar ferocity on a Moscow channel, but this outlet has
a more limited audience.
Yeltsin, who has vast presidential powers, held little respect for the
"The unconstructive manner of the Duma which is on the way out irritated
him," Yakushkin said.
He also said "it has been absolutely decided" that Yeltsin would leave
politics after a presidental poll in June 2000 and has already discussed
plans with aides on life after that. He did not eleborate.
Yeltsin, Putin Heap Praise on KGB and Successors
MOSCOW, Dec 18 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin, in line with Russia's current hardline mood, heaped praise on
Saturday on the Soviet-era KGB secret service and its successors.
One day before an election to the State Duma (lower chamber of parliament)
overshadowed by Russia's military drive against rebels in the breakaway
Chechnya region, the two top officials sent separate messages marking the Day
of Security Bodies.
"Several years ago we fell prey to an illusion that we have no enemies,"
Itar-Tass news agency quoted Putin as telling a meeting of top security
"We have paid dearly for this," said Putin. "Russia has its own national
interests and we have to defend them."
Russia's warm relations with the West, enjoyed for several years after the
collapse of the communist Soviet Union in 1991, have given way to tense rows,
mitigated from time to time by pledges of continued cooperation.
Moscow has vociferously opposed NATO expansion to the east and condemned its
air war against Yugoslavia earlier this year.
For its part, the West has denounced Moscow's military campaign against
Chechnya, saying the use of force has grown out of proportion and urging a
ceasefire to allow civilians to flee.
Putin and Yeltsin have rejected the pressure, saying the conflict is a
domestic affair in which the goal is to wipe out Chechen "terrorism."
Yeltsin has told U.S. President Bill Clinton that he should be careful in
exerting pressure on Russia in light of its vast nuclear arsenal.
On Saturday, Yeltsin sent a special message to security bodies, the Kremlin
press service said.
"The history of the Federal Security Service (the biggest successor body to
the KGB) is part of the country's history. Brilliant victories and bitter
defeats are inseparable in it," the message said.
The KGB's dreaded and omnipresent predecessor, the NKVD, was instrumental in
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges that killed tens of millions of people.
The KGB was responsible for repressing dissent and in charge of foreign
intelligence from the mid-1950s, when Nikita Khrushchev took power and ended
the worst excesses of Stalinism, until the dawn of the Yeltsin era in the
Yeltsin, fearing the KGB could subvert his democratic reforms, split it into
several bodies as the Soviet Union broke up and Russia became independent.
ROLE OF SECURITY BODIES IS GROWING
But in recent years, Yeltsin has turned to security bodies again and promoted
many of its officers to top state posts.
The drive culminated four months ago in the appointment of Putin, a former
KGB spy in East Germany who later served as head of the post-Soviet Federal
Security Service (FSB).
The premier, who has become Russia's most popular politician due to the
military campaign against Chechnya and a no-nonsense image, confirmed the
increasing role of security bodies.
Tass said he delivered a joking report to Saturday's meeting by saying: "A
group of FSB officers sent to work in the government under cover has
sucessfully coped with its first tasks."
More seriously, he said: "The organs of state security have always guarded
Russia's national interests, they should not be separated from the state and
turned into a monster."
Both Putin and Nikolai Patrushev, current head of the FSB, said that the
priority was to fight "international terrorism" in the North Caucasus.
Cec Chair Says Russian Election System Ready for Duma Polls.
MOSCOW, December 18 (Itar-Tass) - Central Electoral Commission chairman
Alexander Veshnyakov said Russia's election system is all set and ready for
the December 19 Duma polls.
Speaking at the opening of the Federal Information Centre Elections-99 on
Saturday, Veshnyakov said these elections are unprecedented by their
openness, adding that the new election law has made vote-counting as
transparent as possible.
The Federal Information Centre will get data from all of Russia's 11 time
zones. The first preliminary results will be announced already after 9 p.m.
Moscow time (1800 GMT) on December 19.
The first information about the turnout will be announced 10 a.m. (0700 GMT)
when the centre will talk to Petropavlovsk- Kamchatsky through a hook-up.
The next election bulletin will come at noon to be followed in 15 minutes by
a video-conference with the Central Election Commission. A hook-up with
Vladikavkaz is scheduled for 4 p.m. (1300 GMT). It will be hosted by
Veshnyakov's deputy Valentin Vlasov. Updates election bulletins will be
available at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. At 6.15 p.m. Central Election Commission
secretary Olga Zastorozhnaya will provide the latest information about the
polls. It will be updated at 8 p.m. and 8.45 p.m. A new video- conference
with the Central Election Commission will take place at 8.10 p.m.
A 15-minute hook-up with Russia's westernmost Kaliningrad region is scheduled
for 9 p.m. It will be conducted by Veshnyakov himself. The first preliminary
results are expected to start coming in at about the same time. They will be
announced at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. The next update will be available at 0.30
a.m. December 20.
On Monday, updates will come out every hour at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4
p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. At 10 p.m. the Federal Information
Centre plans to announce preliminary results and hold a video-conference with
the Central Election Commission.
The centre's head, Dmitry Oreshin, said computer hackers "pose no threat" to
the state automatic system Vybory. "Hackers can not damage the Vybory system,
for it is not linked to the Internet," he said.
He said about 3,000 people will keep the system running on election day.
Oreshin believes that by midnight it will be more or less clear which bloc
has cleared the 5 percent barrier. This information will appear every hour on
two huge -- two meters by two meters -- screens installed on the stage of the
Federal Information Centre.
Reports about voting will be available starting from 10 a.m. December 19. It
will be updated at noon, 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Oreshin said preliminary results of elections are expected to be announced at
about 10 a.m. December 20.
Veshnyakov said "everything is ready" for elections. There are 107 million
people eligible to vote on Sunday at 96,000 polling stations to be managed by
224 district and 2,725 territorial election commissions. Another 843 Russian
citizens will be able to cast ballots outside the country.
"The greatest challenge is to ensure that the voting goes by law," Veshnyakov
Elections will be monitored by 1,200 international from 52 countries and 79
international organisations and over 500,000 Russian observers from various
political parties and blocs, and trade unions.
"We have already asked election commissions to be as kind and tactful to
observers as possible. We have to do everything to make sure that no one has
any doubts about the cleanness and fairness of the election process," he
Veshnyakov told a delegation of international observers on Friday that they
will be able to monitor all stages of the election process -- from voting to
vote counting -- on the same terms as their Russian colleagues.
The elections will also be covered by more than 1,500 journalists from 50
countries and over 100 TV and radio companies.
The first group of foreign observes appeared in Russia about a month ago. On
Thursday, international observers were joined by the chairwoman of the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Helle Degn, who will lead
the observer mission to the Duma elections.
The missions involves representatives of parliaments from more than 20 OSCE
member-states and international parliamentary organisations, including the
Nordic Council and the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The Parliamentary
Assembly and other CIS structures, the European Union, the Council of Europe
and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the United States have also sent in
In the last day before elections, foreign observers were meeting Russian
regional leaders, the heads of election commissions, the leaders of election
associations and voters. On Sunday, international observers will be present
at polling stations, regional election commissions and the Central Election
Commission. They plan to visit 10, 000 polling stations.
They have so far refrained from making any specific assessments which are
expected to be presented on December 20.
A Europarliament member, Lord Bethell of Britain said earlier on Saturday
that the Europarliament's observers will monitor all stages of the Duma
elections in Russia.
In an exclusive interview with Itar-Tass, Lord Bethell said the
Europarliament observers would not be acting in favour of any candidate. He
expressed the hope that the new Duma "will be democratic".
Lord Bethell said he had not noticed any irregularities during the final
stage of the election campaign in Russia.
At the same time, he criticised the methods used by some Russia mass media
during the campaign.
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 1999
From: Gideon Remez <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: But Who's Counting?
Analysis forthcoming in Ha'Aretz newspaper (Israel), Sunday December 19
By Isabella Ginor
Translated from Hebrew
Out of the 26 federal lists competing for half (225) of the seats in the
Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, only four are
considered to have a cetain prospect of passing the 5% threshhold: the
Communists, "Unity", "Fatherland-All Russia" and "Yabloko". Another two
or three are teetering on the borderline: the "Alliance of Right-wing
Forces", the "Zhirinovsky Bloc", and "Women of Russia". This assessment
dates from two days before the election, based on numerous poll data --
despite considerable skepticism as to the credibility of the polls
themselves. Warnings have therefore been sounded that the actual voting
may bring some surprises, both regarding the parties who do get through
to the Duma and the possibility of a widespread protest vote by means of
the "none-of-the-above" option on the ballot.
In the Russian version of "Spitting Images" a week ago, "President Boris
Yeltsin" asked "Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov":
"Who's winning the song contest?" and "Veshnyakov" replied: "I don't
know, I just count votes." The joke refers to the alarming poll figure
of 45-80% who are convinced that the election results will be falsified.
This stems from public awareness of the Kremlin's efforts to gain
control of the Duma by means of its pocket parties, "Unity", "Right-wing
Alliance" and "Zhirinovsky Bloc".
Not only was there no attempt to hide this effort, but both channels of
state television explicitly portrayed the direct and indirect support of
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the leaders of these three blocs:
Sergei Shoigu, Sergei Kiriyenko and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Further
confirmation was given by the exposure of Anatoly Chubais's double role
as campaign manager both for the "Right-Wing Alliance" in the present
election and for Putin's expected run in the Presidential election.
Financial sources are not being discussed openly, but the Russian medias
has pointed more than once to the Kremlin's diversion of state
monopolies' revenue for campaign expenses. This applies also to the
election for mayors and governors in numerous regions, including Moscow.
Kremlin-supported candidates are running in these too, as the executive
needs these provincial leaders for their ex officio seats in the
Federation Council, the upper house of Parliament.
The original idea of "privatizing power" by launching a number of lists
to appeal to various sectors of the electorate belongs to Boris
Berezovsky, who is himself competing for one of the constituency-based
seats that make up the other half of the Duma. This route permits
candidates desirable to the Kremlin to run as independents and once
elected to join one of the factions serving the interests of the present
regime. The Communists, who are likely to remaoin the largest faction,
are not seen as a threat by the Kremlin since its past experience has
shown understandings can be reached with them. One example is the
Kremlin's support for the candidacy of Communist Gennady Seleznyov,
Speaker of the present Duma, for Governor of the Moscow region.
If the surveys are to be believed, the "Berezovsky Doctrine" (which
according to certain Russian sources included the still-victorious
campaign in Chechnya) succeeded above and beyond expectations in
reducing the excellent chances ascribed as late as last summer to
"Fatherland". Control of the Duma by the executive will turn the
legislature into a satellite of the Kremlin. Statements by insiders at
the Presidency, up to Yeltsin himself, point to intentions for the new
Duma to adopt constitutional amendments. That is also the aim of
"Fatherland", but there the similarity ends: "Fatherland" would like,
among others, to reinstate the office of Vice President and reduce the
President's powers in favor of the Duma. On the other hand, the "Family"
of Yeltsin's relatives and courtiers may act to abolish the Russian
Presidency entirely -- which would let Yeltsin go down in history as the
first and only President of Russia, but might also permit him to retain
power in a new office as President of the Russo-Belarussian Union.
If the new lineup of the Duma displeases the Kremlin due to its
unsuitability for "guideed democracy", Yeltsin can always avail himself
of Zhirinovsky's good services. The Election Commission's dealings with
shady names on his original list caused, for a while, an absurd
situation with two officially registered lists featuring the same
people. This supplied Zhirinovsky with legal grounds to demand an
annulment of the election results. Such cynical use of democratic
procedures turns these elections into a dangerous test for Russia's
The Times (UK)
December 18, 1999
[for personal use only]
'The conflict in Chechnya is full of paradoxes and distorted parallels with
Stalingrad - and the civilians are likely to pay the same terrible price'
Antony Beevor is the author of Stalingrad, the Fateful Siege 1942-1943,
published by Penguin
When Russian officers talk of turning Grozny into a huge bomb crater, they
seem to forget their own history. In 1942 the Luftwaffe's massive air raids
on Stalingrad turned the city into the perfect killing ground where the Red
Army was able to ambush its Wehrmacht attackers.
The present conflict in Chechnya is full of paradoxes and distorted parallels
with the past. Grozny and the Maikop ollfields had been Hitler's real
objective in the summer of 1942, not Stalingrad. The city became an objective
of the Germans only when their invasion of the Caucasus ground to a halt and
Hitler decided he needed a symbolic victory. Today, in Yeltsin's Russia,
Grozny has assumed a similar significance.
Whatever their hopes of seizing the Chechen capital before next week's
elections to the Duma, the Russians cannot risk a significant reverse and
heavy casualties. Much depends on the Chechens' reserves of ammunition;
Russian commanders may try to provoke them into wasting what they have, but
they do not know how many armour-piercing weapons the Chechens have.
It will be interesting to see whether the Chechens use the Red Army's
Stalingrad methods against their descendents. General Chuikov, the commander
of the 62nd Army, funnelled enemy armour into minefields covered by anti-tank
weapons. The Germans also found themselves caught up in the so-called
Stalingrad academy of street fighting - a very hard school in which many
young soldiers perished in the ruins. We are unlikely to see sewer and cellar
clearance with flame-throwers, as in 1942; today gas is more likely to be
employed. And I doubt if we will hear of the sharpened spades and knives used
by fighting patrols at night in Stalingrad, though the Chechens, like the
Russians in Stalingrad, will encourage close-quarter combat.
We are liable to see a reversal of roles in more ways than one. In 1942 the
Germans were scared of operations in the dark and loosed off millions of
rounds of ammunition at shadows. The Red Army, aware of the Germans' fears,
kept up the pressure at night, provoking stress and exhaustion. This will no
doubt be the Chechen tactic against the Russian conscripts of today.
The most terrible similarity between the two battles is likely to be the
pitiless treatment of civilians. In September 1942, there were about 50,000
civilians trapped in cellars, sewers and even shell-holes. At the end of the
next January, when the battle ended, 10,000 were still alive - an astonishing
survival rate, given the savagery of the conflict. A thousand of these
civilians were starving orphans.
The battle of Grozny will certainly be nothing like Stalingrad in scale, nor
will it last as long, since the Chechens do not have a resupply route. Yet
the fate of the civilians will be terrible. Intense cold and stress upsets
the metabolism, thus accelerating starvation, as the Germans found at
It is hard to see much hope for the Chechens. Islamic and Western
condemnation will do nothing to help them, except to harden Russian resolve.
The Russians are invoking the ruthless determination demanded in the Great
Patriotic War, as if the Chechens were somehow equivalent to Nazi invaders.
When I was in Moscow in September at the time of the apartment block
explosions which triggered this whole ghastly war, a former KGB officer said
openly on television that chemical weapons should be used even if it meant
killing children, because Chechen children were the criminals of the future.
Unfortunately, all too many Russians agree with him.
Rather as the Germans confused cause and effect to justify their invasion of
the Soviet Union, Russian leaders are trapping themselves in a moral,
political and possibly military blind alley. If they achieve victory in
Grozny, it will be the start of a low-intensity war that will last many
The Guardian (UK)
18 December 1999
[for personal use only]
Astrologers make a fortune selling secrets of the stars to Moscow's
By Ian Traynor
Russian polling experts have pointed to the war in Chechnya and economic
turmoil as important factors in determining who wins power in tomorrow's
But one group believes the result is written in the stars. Political
consultancy is booming in Russia and astrologers are exploiting the desire of
politicians and businessmen to gain any advantage they can over rivals.
"We astrologers are playing a significant role in this election," says Boris
Israitel, who runs the Euro-Asian Branch of the National Council for
"The newspapers use our predictions, the businessmen want to know what the
stars are saying about a given candidate's chances. I'm also helping six
separate candidates in their campaigns."
The election has provided rich pickings for Mr Israitel and his colleagues.
He has no views on policy. His forte is personality traits and how to turn
strengths to political advantage.
"In this election, nobody is interested in the content of political
programmes," he says. "On the contrary, it is imagery and feelings, the
emotional and the subconscious spheres, which matter."
And money, of course. Mr Israitel is a mere bit player in an industry that
now sells politics to 107m voters.
"Business is very good," says Andrei Biryukov, head of the political PR
department at Nikkolo M. The M stands for Machiavelli and the company is one
of Moscow's biggest political consultancies. "We reckon that a candidate has
to spend a dollar a vote to win a seat in the Duma," he adds.
Others put the price at more than double that, suggesting that the 27 parties
and hundreds of candidates fighting for the 450 seats at stake will have
spent more than £120m by the end of the campaign.
The election is a no-holds-barred battle in which image-makers play a
paramount role. Negative campaigning, smear tactics and outrageous
fabrications are routine. Yesterday state television, loyal to the Kremlin,
reported that Vladimir Yakovlev, the No 3 candidate on main opposition
ticket, was withdrawing from the race. It was, Mr Yakovlev declared, "an
absolute lie", but the damage may already have been done.
There are some 40 Moscow firms employed in the election campaign, 15 of which
concentrate almost exclusively on selling politics. The Russian spin doctors
have a much stronger impact on politics than their western counterparts
because Russian democracy is in its infancy.
Last summer a group of consultants identified a hole in the party spectrum
and suggested to friends in the Kremlin that a new electoral bloc be formed.
The result was Unity, headed by the emergencies minister, Sergei Shoigu.
Unity is three months old and has no political programme or regional
infrastructure, but it has become the prime minister Vladimir Putin's key
political instrument and, through slick PR and promotion from state
television, Unity now commands 17% of the vote.
"We're very able people," Mr Biryukov says. "The bureaucrats and the party
apparatchiks are not that good, not very clever. That's why our companies are
really needed. We know what works."
Mr Israitel would disagree. He insists the key factor affecting the poll is
Jupiter; the planet's strength means small parties will not win the 5% of
votes needed to get into parliament, leaving the three big blocs in control.
The Independent (UK)
19 December 1999
[for personal use only]
The psychology of victors
The Chechen campaign is a brutal but convincing display both of military
power and government resolve
By Patrick Cockburn with the Russian army in Grozny
In a forward Russian command post in the capital of Chechnya, Colonel
Vladimir Mukhlin, a burly officer with an overbearing manner, was assuring us
that it was a quiet day at the front when he was interrupted by an explosive
exchange of fire between the Russians and the besieged Chechens.
"Get out! Get out! They are shooting at us!" shouted the flustered-looking
colonel, his voice loud enough to be heard above the roar of Russian
howitzers and the rattle of machine-gun fire. I asked if we were being
targeted by mortars or snipers. "I don't know," he roared as he lumbered
towards a vehicle. "Ask the Chechens."
The Chechen fighters in Grozny, small in number and squeezed by Russian
probing attacks, are still capable of showing their teeth. Russian commanders
deny that the Chechens wiped out a detachment of tanks and armoured personnel
carriers (APCs) which blundered into the heart of the city in the middle of
the week. Reports from the scene, however, leave little doubt that the
Russian army suffered one of its few setbacks in the war.
Driving up to the front line over the low hills north of Grozny, it is easy
to see why the Russians are so confident. The long snouts of Russian
howitzers point towards the Chechen capital from every hilltop. The last time
I was here was two months ago, when Chechen fighters were dug into a low
escarpment just south of the Terek river, facing Russian tanks to the north.
Their defence did not last long. Backed by massive artillery fire, Russian
armour soon overran their narrow zigzag trenches, often only 18in across. The
positions are now held by the 20th Division of the Russian Army, based in
Volgograd, whose commanders have no doubt about their ability to fight their
way into the city.
For the moment, the 20th, a mechanised infantry unit, is led by Colonel
Viktor Pavlov, a confident, forthright officer, normally its deputy commander
but now in charge amid rumours that his senior officer was wounded.
At his headquarters encampment, looking more like something out of the First
World War, with soldiers walking on wooden duckboards to avoid the deep mud,
he assured us that the situation around Grozny was very much under control:
"The city is surrounded. Everything is being done to allow the civilians to
leave. The psychology of our soldiers is the psychology of victors. They have
no doubt they will win." If he could not promise that the Russian flag would
fly over Grozny by the New Year, it was only because the final decision was
political, not military.
Officers like Col Pavlov probably do think that "everything is being done" to
get civilians out of Grozny â€“ Russian officers have a schizophrenic
to Chechens. At an old airport defended by dug-in self-propelled artillery,
Major Vladimir Nikolaev, with 23 years in the Soviet and then Russian Army,
explained that Russia was in Chechnya not to fight ordinary Chechens but
"gangsters".It is true that if you talk to local people here, they are sick
and tired of the Wahhabis (Islamic extremists). The problem, as almost every
refugee explains, is that for the Russians any Chechen who opposes them is a
Wahhabi. Nor does the relentless Russian bombardment make any distinction
between fighters and Chechen civilians.
Evidence of mass destruction is everywhere. An old factory, wrecked in the
last war, had been pounded once again by artillery. Even rusty old
containers, used by street traders as improvised shops, had been blasted into
twisted, charred metal. There are also signs of more recent and sinister
destruction. As we approached the village of Tolstoy-Yurt, we saw a column of
grey smoke rising thousands of feet into the air. It turned out to come from
a small oil refinery which was ablaze. The fire was so intense it could only
have been started in the last few days â€“ evidence perhaps that Russia is
destroying the Chechen oil business, usually illegal, but one of the few
industries still operating.
Many Chechens are still hopeful that the Russians will not stay long. They
argue that the motive for launching the invasion in September was to enable
Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, to become President in succession
to Boris Yeltsin next year. This was probably true at the beginning, but the
war has taken on new dimensions. For many Russians it is a test case of the
government's ability to restore order. The Chechens are a uniquely suitable
target because Russians, by and large, detest them as violent mafiosi, and
see Chechnya as the Sicily of the Russian Federation.
So far the war has gone Russia's way. Its military campaign has been brutal
but effective. On our way back from the front our little convoy made frequent
stops, which did not seem a good idea. It was night time and thick freezing
mist had closed in, allowing any guerrilla to fire his machine gun or
rocket-propelled grenade from point-blank range without our three APCs being
able to do much about it. The stops had a simple explanation. We were going
to have a party.
We were waiting for soldiers in another APC to return with vodka and tinned
meat and fish (no Russian drinks without eating). When they finally emerged
from the mist clutching a plastic bag filled with bottles, the party began,
illuminated by the lights of the armoured vehicles.
The Russian army is traditionally hospitable, but this roadside celebration
also showed the soldiers' confidence that we were under no danger of attack.
This sense of security may pass. But for the moment, in the territory taken
in the last three months, Russia is very much in control.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (Japan)
18 December 1999
VICTORY TO GO TO RUNNER-UP IN DUMA POLL
Alexander Tsypko Special to The Daily Yomiuri
(Alexander Tsypko is a political analyst in Moscow.)
The only thing we can predict with any certainty about Sunday's State Duma
election in Russia is that the Communist Party will win, as it did in 1995.
Of course, they will win fewer votes than last time.
In 1995, they won 31 percent of votes cast. Now, they can expect just 20
percent to 22 percent. However, even if they win again, the Communists cannot
play a leading role in Russian politics. Their influence on the Kremlin's
domestic and foreign policy, especially in terms of the selection of cabinet
posts, has always been negligible. They were never able to form a government
with a parliamentary majority.
In the last Duma election, they failed to make a strategic ally. A Communist
candidate for the Russian presidency has no chance of being elected. The
number of opponents of the Communists overwhelmingly exceeds the number of
the party's supporters. If a Communist reaches the final stage of the
presidential election, the majority of voters will cast their ballots against
him. Those who vote for the Communists--about 20 percent to 25 percent of the
population--are mainly middle-aged and elderly people who idealize the past.
And the Communists have low prestige among the intelligentsia.
Since the Communists pose no real threat to the Yeltsin administration,
nobody fights with them seriously--neither the Kremlin, nor centrists and
rightists. Nobody cares if the Communists win control of the Duma--such a
victory is meaningless. The real struggle is going on for the No. 2 spot: The
party that comes second will take control of the Duma's political line, its
relationship with Yeltsin and the government, and eventually control the
balance of power in post-Yeltsin Russia.
There are two pretenders for second place, so we can speculate about two
possible scenarios in terms of the political situation in Russia after Sunday.
Under the first scenario, the alliance formed between Moscow Mayor Yuri
Luzhkov's Fatherland Party and former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov's All Russia Party takes second place. That would mean further
confrontation between the Duma and the Kremlin. Under the second scenario,
the Unity bloc, headed by Emergency Situations Minister Sergey Shoigu becomes
the second-most powerful body in the Duma.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin supports the Unity bloc. If the
Fatherland-All Russia bloc garners 16 percent to 20 percent of votes and thus
becomes the second-largest faction in the Duma, hostility between the Duma
and the Kremlin, where Yeltsin and his clique remain in charge until summer
2000, will intensify rapidly. It seems likely that the bloc would join forces
with the Communists to create a majority opposition in the parliament that
would be able to change the political climate in the country. That would lead
to anticorruption measures as well as property redistribution in favor of
tycoons who now support the bloc--in other words in favor of the Moscow group
led by Luzhkov and Vladimir Gussinsky.
This opposition alliance might force the resignation of the Putin Cabinet
right after the election, despite Putin's popularity rate of 45 percent.
Putin's resignation would pave the way for Primakov to stand as a joint
opposition candidate for the presidency. Holding the majority in the Duma,
the left-of-center opposition could make significant constitutional
amendments to limit the authoritarian rule of the president.
Both the Communist Party and Fatherland-All Russia are dreaming about a
parliamentary republic in which the Duma would be in charge of the government.
If the second position in the Duma is occupied by the pro-remlin Shoigu bloc,
the political development of Russia in the near future will take a different
Shoigu's victory would probably make the Communists rethink their political
priorities. On order to remain in the political mainstream, they would surely
prefer to support Putin than confront him. That will be easy because in the
old Duma there were many Putin supporters among the Communists. Also, Putin
has a close personal relationship with Communist Party leader Gennady
Zyuganov. Stalinist Communists like Putin's uncompromising patriotism much
more than the insipid brand espoused by Luzhkov and Primakov.
If the Fatherland-All Russia bloc performs badly and gains less than 10
percent of the votes, the bloc will have no chance of forming an alliance
with the Communists, and may split. Demoralized Russian deputies would rush
to join hands with Shoigu's bloc. This scenario begins to look more realistic
if the Unity bloc leaves Fatherland-All Russia far behind--say 5 percent to 7
percent behind--and if Putin's current allies--the Zhirinovsky bloc and the
Union of Right Forces, led by Anatoly Chubais--appear in the Duma. In that
case, Shoigu obviously could become a government with a parliamentary
Such a scenario would mean the consolidation of political and financial power
around the Kremlin. It would also mean that the financial and information
sectors would remain under the control of Boris Berezovsky.
A united pro-government bloc might, under that scenario, neutralize any
opposition in the parliament. If Putin keeps the premier's post, his future
presidency is guaranteed. That scenario would also facilitate the completion
of the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya, thus preventing separatist moves
in the rest of Russia and strengthening the country's executive power.
The electoral success of Fatherland-All Russia would strengthen the
sovereignty and autonomy of national republics and other regions in Russia.
It is no coincidence that the bloc is supported by the influential leaders of
national republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkaria and
However, if the Unity bloc gains the upper hand, central authority will be
strengthened in Russia.
The struggle for second position in the Duma election is a fight for real
power and that is why it is so brutal. The Kremlin is using all means at its
disposal to undermine the popularity of Fatherland-All Russia leaders to
break their will to gain power. Today, rumors are spreading in Moscow that
the general prosecutor's office is going to start an official investigation
of Luzhkov's alleged involvement in the murder of the American Paul Tatum.
The St. Petersburg gubernatorial election set for Sunday, in which Vladimir
Yakovlev, the third leader of Fatherland-All Russia, had every chance to win,
was recently canceled. Panic reigns in Luzhkov's camp, with his supporters
worrying that legal action will be mounted against them. Everything is being
done to entice the middle-of-the-road vote, which is estimated to account for
30 percent of the electorate, from Fatherland-All Russia to Shoigu's Unity
Of course, nobody but the voters themselves can make the final decision of
who will occupy the crucial second place in Duma. And there could be some
surprises. People are tired of anarchic election campaigns. They are fed up
with candidates' empty promises and posturing. The bulk of voters do not know
who to vote for. They may wait until they pick up their ballot papers before
deciding which way to cast their vote.
Recent polls suggest that the second scenario, under which Unity takes second
place, is the most plausible. The Shoigu bloc is 8 percentage points ahead of
the Primakov bloc. The Shoigu bloc has a 17 percent support rate, while
Primakov bloc enjoys 9 percent support, so there is a greater chance that the
Kremlin scenario, which would pave the way to power for Putin, will be
realized. However the Kremlin is ready to deal with unexpected twists of
fortune. If the mood of voters changes at the last moment and they suddenly
drift toward Primakov--in other words, if the danger of an opposition
majority in the new Duma becomes real--Yeltsin's team will probably annul the
election results. The central election commission has prepared enough legal
pitfalls to be able to proclaim the election void, if necessary.
18 December, 1999
The pride of the bear
By Bridget Kendall in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
The first change I noticed made me laugh out loud. Aeroflot was holding a day
of smiles to cheer up its customers.
I was in Moscow, waiting to fly on to Nizhny Novgorod.
The airport, which used to be a hellhole, crammed with desperate grimy
people, herded by airhostesses who behaved like prison warders is now a
gleaming, half-empty palace of wipe-down plastic.
Only foreigners and successful businessmen can afford to travel these days.
Money is everything in the new Russia. Only the very rich have enough.
Everyone else is constantly preoccupied with it.
Strolling through the pedestrianised high street in Nizhny Novgorod I was
brought up sharp by one young man.
It was foot-stamping cold, snowy and beautiful. Christmas lights festooned
the lampposts. The old 19th Century merchants houses left to rot by the
Communists had all been restored. All along the pavement gaudy nylon tents
were serving as kiosks.
"Aren't you cold?" I asked one trader who shrugged and said he was used to
"How long do you stay out here at a stretch? Don't you have a heater?" I
He eyed my notebook. "If this is an interview, you'll have to pay for it," he
said. "Otherwise stick to questions on the books I am selling."
It was a blunt answer from a man who needed the money. So different from
Russian hospitality of 10, 20 years ago. But this is a nation reduced,
sometimes quite literally, to begging.
Down the street I came across a battered truck and a woman unloading several
well worn cages. One contained a large fox - pacing up and down - another,
two racoons, and another a big brown Russian bear, snout in the air, tugging
at the chain that held him.
They were from the local zoo, come to stage a street show because - the woman
and her assistant told me - they could not afford to feed the animals.
Before long, a crowd had gathered.
The bear, chained to a tree now, lumbered back and forth impatiently. The
assistant, a squashed nosed man with long hair in a dirty anorak, fished out
a narrow gold circlet - the sort fairytale Russian princes used to wear.
He put it on and started combing his greasy locks in a small pocket mirror.
Ignoring his royal attendant, the bear climbed on a circus stool and reared
up on its hind legs, paws outstretched together. The crowd laughed
delightedly at this begging dance.
Someone threw a hot-dog. The bear caught it between its paws, chewed on the
bread but discarded the sausage.
"It's not fresh enough," said the assistant and tossed it to the fox who
snapped it up ravenously.
It was a funny scene, but mostly it was painful. The symbolism was so
blatant, so poignant.
Wasn't the bear's humiliation just like Russia's? Chained to a plight they
don't know how to put right while the outside world watches, sometimes
amused, sometimes outraged - as with the war in Chechnya.
"We are hostages in our own country," one woman told me here this week.
Tatyana has good reason to feel angry. She lost her only son in the last war
in Chechnya four years ago. A teenage conscript, he was shot by a sniper just
two weeks short of being discharged.
Tatyana's reaction to the war in Chechnya starting again is hatred.
"Yet another screw-up by Moscow," she said bitterly. "They push us to the
limit with their political games and ambitions, and then we pay for their
mistakes with the lives of our children."
Poverty and chaos
So far there have been few new casualties among those from Nizhny Novgorod.
Just six local lads lost out of 7,000 sent down there, the regional Mothers
of Soldiers committee told me. They've written to President Yeltsin to
protest at conscripts being despatched to the front.
But so far, they admit, their anti-war message has received little attention.
Everyone is too tired of being trapped in poverty and chaos. A military
victory in the far away Caucasus is an enticing thought after years of
failure and disintegration.
Don't forget, for educated Russians, Chechens are ancient foes, evil villains
immortalised in the verses of Pushkin and Tolstoy.
It's members of the Russian intelligentsia who most loudly support Prime
Minister Putin's fight against what he calls Chechen terrorists.
With no television pictures to prompt sympathy for civilians cowering to
escape bombs in Grozny's cellars, it's tempting for Russians to see this war
as a chance to restore self-esteem and hope in the future.
It's not even about keeping Chechnya inside Russia. It's about taking a stand
at last against lawlessness.
So long, of course, as the current military campaign ends in victory.
No wonder the generals want to fight on and resist all talk of mediation.
The Guardian (UK)
19 December 1999
[for personal use only]
Tycoon seeks a safe haven in Duma
Lindsey Hilsum joins the campaign trail of Boris Berezovsky, the country's
most unlikely candidate for MP
Lindsey Hilsum is diplomatic correspondent for Channel 4 News
Late at night, Boris Berezovsky's campaign team could be found relaxing at
Cherkessk's best restaurant, a smoky underground dive where they serve local
pickles and Moldovan wine while The Greatest Hits of Cher blast out from
A far cry from the casinos of the south of France that Berezovsky himself
frequents, it is all this crumbling Caucasian outpost has to offer. There was
another good restaurant, but it was burnt down during the rivalry of the last
Such are the politics of the place where Berezovsky - often called Russia's
most powerful man, and probably its richest - has chosen to run for today's
election to the Russian lower house, the Duma. Berezovsky and his team
epitomise the brash new Russia and they have brought their culture of
capitalism to this small, impoverished republic where people regret the
passing of the Soviet era and are still consumed by internal ethnic quarrels.
'My strategy is simple,' said Andrei, Berezovsky's spin doctor. In his
mid-thirties, with collar-length hair and baggy jeans, he spoke near-perfect
English. 'I've only known Berezovsky for a month. In Moscow I do commercials
and promote rock bands. But here we keep it simple. No glossy posters, just
slogans in the local language.'
Their rivals are Communists and candidates campaigning for one ethnic group
or another. The message is clear: Berezovsky embodies success in the new
Russia - hitch your wagon to him, and you might make it too.
At first glance, Berezovsky's candidature seems baffling. As a key member of
'the family', the inner circle around Boris Yeltsin, he has far more power
than any Duma deputy. A decade ago he owned a string of car dealerships. Now
he has a major stake in the national carrier Aeroflot, a similar interest in
the only TV channel to broadcast countrywide, and has made billions from
Siberian oilfields he bought for a song when they were privatised.
He has clashed with nearly all the Prime Ministers appointed by Yeltsin.
While they have fallen one by one, he has survived. But Berezovsky is an
astute political mover, and he knows that next year when Yeltsin dies or
steps down he may need another power base.
Like Hillary Clinton seeking election in New York, Berezovsky has bought a
large house in the constituency. He received us after midnight, in a room
hastily decorated as a theme park of Caucasian culture, with a bearskin on
the floor and a stuffed wild boar head on the wall flanked by silver-embossed
Capitalism is his creed; democracy is just one way of consolidating his
influence. Eager to talk, he was consumed by the assurance that his vision
for Russia is right.
'People say I am a grey cardinal, and I want to break this image by being
elected,' he said. 'I feel comfortable in Paris, London or New York, but I
want to be as I am in my motherland. I am not an altruist, but I want what is
normal for me to be normal for other people too.'
On a clear, cold afternoon outside the Palace of Culture in Zelenchuskaya, a
cheerless town an hour's drive from Cherkessk, the pensioners' brass band
struck up a waltz. Old men with rheumy eyes wearing threadbare brown jackets
played their battered tubas and tarnished trumpets, a Caucasian version of
the Grimthorpe Colliery Band.
Like the miners, they are nostalgic for better times. Communism worked for
these old men. Democracy? 'It's bad,' said Andrei Petrovic Makov, the band
leader. Freedom? 'It's a meaningless word. We used to have a holiday every
year on the Black Sea coast. We all had jobs and each factory had its own
band. We had never heard this word, unemployment.' Now, the factories are
closed and young men see crime as the only route to riches.
As Berezovsky swept up in his black Mercedes Benz, they played a march. He
represents everything they mistrust about the new Russia. But many other
residents came to listen. Candidate Berezovsky - a small, dark, balding man
in an open-necked white shirt and a black suit - promised foreign investment,
a programme to develop the unspoilt ski resort of Dombe and a new factory
producing auto-parts. In the lobby a member of his team took down the names
and addresses of those in the audience who wanted 'immediate help' - in other
words, money. Shrugging off accusations that he is buying votes, Berezovsky
said: 'Yes, some came to ask for money because they have terrible problems,
but the majority want help in terms of a job.'
At every townhall meeting we attended, Berezovsky was accompanied by Russia's
most popular news anchorman, Sergei Dorenko, who presents a weekly current
affairs programme on the television station Berezovsky controls. The people
responded warmly to him, a muscular figure in a leather jacket, another
symbol of the new Russia.
On his Sunday night show, he relentlessly pursues Berezovsky's political
enemies - notably the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and the former Prime
Minister, Yevgeny Primakov - presumably at Berezovsky's behest. His TV
station is partly owned by the state - to most Russians, it is the voice of
But Berezovsky is no Kremlin stooge. In 1997, he was envoy to Chechnya,
charged with stabilising the breakaway republic. He helped forge the deal
that had Aslam Maskhadov elected as Chechen President and Russia promise
'But the Russian Prime Ministers did not do that. The result is what we have
now. The Chechens are wrong, but the federal government is also wrong,' he
said, in a bold policy disagreement with the current Prime Minister, Vladimir
Putin. 'The steps Putin took were correct, but now is another stage.'
Berezovsky's views on Chechnya will go down well in Carachayevo-Cherkessk,
which is only a few hours drive from Grozny, but in Moscow his future is
beginning to look uncertain. Last Thursday the Duma passed a resolution
freezing the accounts of the TV company he owns jointly with the state.
If he is elected, Berezovsky, like all state deputies, will enjoy immunity
from prosecution. But what if he loses? 'I had not thought of that,' he said.
'I'm trying to do this because I think this will increase my power to
influence decisions I think we need to take. But if not, I will use other
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 1999
From: yuliy baryshnikov <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 3691-Elections99.com
Just a note regarding the web site election99.com. Established by the Fund
for Efficient Politics, it hardly can be thought of as an independent
public vehicle. The web projects of FEP (like www.polit.ru or www.ovg.ru)
are clearly biased (as to where, the list of most falsification prone
regions in their ad says enough). The fund is well financed (its staff is
pretty high salaried and the ads they publish, mostly of the related web
projects, as it seems, hardly can provide even for tech support), and I
would suspect is no more independent than, say, Nezavisimaya Gazeta. So
just a warning - take their content with a grain of salt.
PS Also, I would not believe their claim as being the *first* public
organisation supervising the election in Russia. Ridiculous...