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Johnson's Russia List
25 December 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Jonas Bernstein: Re: Martin Malia's NYT op-ed, JRL #3706.
2. Reuters: Russian TV shows film of Chechen looting.
3. Itar-Tass: "Unscrupulous People" Behind Fuss about
4. Dmitri Glinski Vassiliev: Why our election results make sense.
5. Vek: IT IS TIME TO PAY FOR YOUR PLAY. (re "dwarf parties")
6. Moskovsky Komsomolets: WHY THE GOVERNORS BETRAYED "FATHERLAND"
7. US News and World Report: Christian Caryl, Voters said what, exactly??
As Communists lost their grip, Russians were still perplexed by democracy.
8. The Economist (UK) editorial: Russia's new Duma. A fresh start,
perhaps but don't bank on it.
9. The Economist (UK): Russia's Cooperative New Duma. Russia's election
result is just what the Kremlin wanted.
10. Washington Post: David Hoffman, Russian Pins Election Defeat on
War Hysteria. (Yavlinsky)
11. Segodnya: PUTIN UNVEILS HIS OWN THINK-TANK.
12. BBC: Russia to double education funds.]
From: "jonas bernstein" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Martin Malia's NYT op-ed, JRL #3706, December 23, 1999
Date: Sat, 25 Dec 1999
Re: Martin Malia's NYT op-ed, JRL #3706, December 23, 1999
In his Dec. 23 New York Times op-ed piece on the "improvement" that the Dec.
19 election ostensibly augurs for Russia, Martin Malia seeks to put in their
place all those who believe that the August 1998 financial collapse, last
summer's money-laundering scandal and the second Chechnya war show that
Russia's "reformers" failed and that it was a mistake to support Yeltsin.
Perhaps I'm confused, but isn't this the same Martin Malia who wrote a Sept.
3, 1998, New York Times op-ed entitled "Russian Retreat From the West,"
which proclaimed that "[t]he only certainty in Russia's present crisis is
that it marks the end of an era -- the Yeltsin years for sure and quite
probably the end of the theory, widely trumpeted just a decade ago, that
market democracy has triumphed as a universal ideal," and that "Russia's
liberal experiment has now collapsed in spectacular and completely
unexpected fashion"? Is it possible that those of us who spent most of the
'90s on the ground in Russia missed all the incredible zig-zags in Russia's
development that Malia somehow managed to spot from afar - triumphant reform
followed by its "spectacular and completely unexpected" collapse in August
1998 followed, just a year later, by the "improvements" augured by the Dec.
19 elections? Or perhaps there is a flaw in Prof. Malia's analysis - a
result of viewing Russia as little more than a prop in an obsolete debate
among American academics over Soviet Communism?
PS: Prof. Malia writes indignantly in his op-ed: "A commentator on the
Lehrer News Hour insinuated that the Yeltsin government had blown up Moscow
apartments last September to justify the war in Chechnya." Is there anyone
among JRL's readers and contributors who would categorically rule out this
possibility (if the term "Yeltsin government" is broadened to include
Russia's rival ruling financial-political clans)?
Russian TV shows film of Chechen looting
MOSCOW, Dec 25 (Reuters) - Russian television, adding fresh evidence to
allegation of wrongdoing by troops in a Chechen village, showed footage on
Saturday of a wagon piled with looted goods and officers squabbling with a
top civilian offical.
Malik Saidullayev, head of the pro-Moscow State Council of Chechnya, has
accused soldiers of killing 41 civilians in the village of Alkan-Yurt and
looting their homes.
The military have denied a massacre but Russian officials say villagers lured
soldiers into a rebel ambush in Alkhan-Yurt, which was captured after a long
Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western front in
Chechnya which covers Alkhan-Yurt, strongly defended his servicemen.
``Don't you dare touch Russian soldiers with your dirty hands, they
are...defending Russia,'' Shamanov told NTV television.
NTV said the footage, filmed at the beginning of December, was provided by
Saidullayev, who is a native of Alkhan-Yurt.
The film showed an open-top trailer loaded with domestic items such as
electronic equipment, carpets, cans of home-made jam and even blood-spattered
family photo albums.
The trailer was surrounded by ruins of one-storey houses, their roof pillars
jutting out of heaps of rubble.
Saidullayev told NTV that after the capture of Alkhan-Yurt soldiers ordered
villagers to run six km (four miles) across
fields under fire from tanks that rumbled behind them.
The NTV film showed Russia's main civilian envoy in the region, Nikolai
Koshman, who came to Alkhan-Yurt to investigate the incident, arguing with an
officer who initially refused to show his identity card.
``Hand it over,'' hissed the Russian commander in Chechnya, Viktor Kazantsev,
to the officer. ``That's not some nobody you are talking to -- it is a deputy
The officer submitted his documents to Koshman and Kazantsev added scornfully
to the officer: ``Don't expect this one to bend over for you.''
Russian prosecutors launched a formal investigation into the incident after
the row became public last week.
Vladimir Ustinov, the Russian prosecutor general, said on Friday a
preliminary investigation had found no proof the soldiers exceeded their
authority in Alkhan-Yurt.
"Unscrupulous People" Behind Fuss about Alkhan-Yurt
By Yevgeny Mikhailov
MOZDOK, December 25 (Itar-Tass) - The commander of the western group of
federal troops in the North Caucasus, Major- General Vladimir Shamanov
attributed the fuss about Alkhan-Yurt to the fact that the Russian army has
taken over the town, thus putting rebels in Grozny "on the brink of
He believes "some unscrupulous people" stand behind this fuss and some of
them are in official circles.
The general said all scrutinies in Alkhan-Yurt conducted by commissions and
the military prosecutors of the Russian General Staff dismissed the
accusations that the Russian military gave brutal treatment to peaceful
people in Chechnya and their families are groundless.
Shamanov noted that this fuss did disservice to his subordinates. In a
different fight on the southern outskirts of Chernorechye, his troops spent
an hour and a half digging in under intensive fire without firing back, he
said, adding that the soldiers obeyed the order not to fire at buildings.
The general hopes that very soon everything will be clarified. "I'll tell you
what. Don't you dare touch the soldiers and officers of the Russian army with
your dirty hands. They are performing a holy duty today, they are defending
their motherland," Shamanov said at the end of his meeting with the press in
Alkhan-Yurt where media claim Russian servicemen killed dozens of peaceful
He said everything had begun on November 11 when the Russian army was three
kilometres away from the town.
This area is critical to the rebels' resistance and the success of the
federal troops. In the 1994-1996 campaign, the Russian army failed to reach
the Grozny--Chernorechye--Urus- Martan--Predgorye line. "Now a large force of
terrorists is concentrated there too. There are mercenaries from the Middle
East and Africa among them, there are Chechen kamikazes and there are Slavs
mercenaries," the general explained.
He said federal troops had failed to cross the rivers Urus and Martan on the
first try -- there are 6-8-metre vertical banks, fog, a large number of rebel
snipers and dense hostile fire did not allow the Russian troops to use their
"I mean our aviation and artillery, and tank thrusts by direct laying," he
He said the troops had made another try south of Urus-Martan but there too
they met fierce resistance and halted.
Then commanders decided to take the bridge on the Rostov-Baku motorway south
of Alkhan-Yurt. And fighting went on for three days. Three groups of federal
troops were encircled by rebels but they were rescued later.
"That's when that fierce fight took place, when the western outskirts of
Alkhan-Yurt was affected to some extent," the general said.
But federal troops pierced the rebels' defence lines and moved 4.5 kilometres
further south and 5 kilometres to the east, "putting those who remained in
Grozny on the brink of catastrophe", he said.
From: "Dmitri Glinski Vassiliev" <email@example.com>
Subject: Why our election results make sense
Date: Fri, 24 Dec 1999
Michael Kagalenko's remarks in JRL 3706 actually confirm my main point about
why people who are supposed to be unhappy with the regime did not give quite
a ringing support to opposition parties.
As eloqently noted by Kagalenko, "upon finding oneself in the cage with
predators, the only way one can save his hide is ... show to the beasts the
firm leash and sturdy knout". This is exactly what the present opposition in
Russia never had.
The larger issue is that so far, every exacerbation of power struggle in
Moscow eventually hit those social groups that were supposedly "in the
vanguard" and that were seen by the elite as destabilizing forces. In 90-91,
these were the anti-establishment voters who wanted social justice and
political freedoms at the expense of nomenklatura privileges. What they got
as a result were the "reforms" that converted bureaucratic privilege into
property rights and that confiscated financial means required to be able to
appreciate political freedoms. In Russia, popular mentality viewed this as a
"lesson" to those who misbehaved. In August '98, the law-abiding lower
middle class largely dependent on connections with the world economy - and
one suspects this was the pool of voters for the non-communist opposition -
lost their savings and jobs. In both cases, the would-be defenders of this
strata found themselves without "firm leash and sturdy knout", and even
without a cushion for those that were hurt - except, to a limited extent, in
Moscow. Compare this to Chubais who holds his fingers on the electricity
switchboard across the country, with over half of the industries unable to
pay their debts to his company, and Abramovich who had enough cash to bring
several ships with coal to the Chukchas in exchange for the votes. Most
Russians feel themselves
one-on-one with the vengeful Vlast, that can switch off the lights and bring
you to misery when something gets wrong, but also be extremely benevolent
when it has its belly full.
Also, many of us remember too well that last time we came close to a radical
change - in 91 - was at the cost of breaking up the country. OVR tactics of
pitting small regional vlasts against the big beast reminded everyone of
There is much debate these days about how different the new Duma is from the
previous one. In my view, the single key indicator for the past Duma was
impeachment vote in May. I heard from my acquaintances that the
administration had a list of those deputies that voted for the impeachment,
and apparatchiks were given the assignment to make sure that no one from
this list gets
elected from the single-member district. Since the names of the
single-member district deputies have already been posted on the
Tsentrizbirkom website, I think finding out how many pro-impeachment
deputies got reelected and how many lost would at least put us on a firm
ground. I don't have the roll-call for the impeachment vote, but I believe
it should have been published somewhere.
Dmitri Glinski Vassiliev
Vek, Dec. 24, 1999
Reprinted at www.nns.ru
IT IS TIME TO PAY FOR YOUR PLAY
(translation for personal use only)
"Dwarf parties", that did not get support of the voters, will be punished by
financial means. This warning has been issued by Yevgenii Kolyushin, member
of the Central Electoral Committee. This interview with him was conducted by
Stas Stremidlovsky, correspondent of Vek.
- Yevgenii Ivanovich, what innovations in the area of financial regulations
characterized the current electoral campaign to the State Duma?
- The most important is that individuals and parties were allowed to
register as candidates by making a money deposit. As a result, more than two
thirds of electoral associations and one third of candidates in the
single-member districts choose to make a deposit rather than conduct a
petitioning campaign in order to qualify. <...>
- What will happen to those electoral associations which did not make it to
the State Duma?
- As regards those parties that crossed the 2% barrier ("Women of Russia"
and "Communists - Russian Toilers for the USSR", their registration deposits
will be withheld. The rest will also have to pay for air time that was
provided for free [by state TV and radio channels] and for the advertising
- It is difficult to imagine that "dwarf" parties will find millions to pay
for the media services. If they don't have money, will it be possible to
reclaim the property of those who failed to become deputies?
- Yes, if this is party property.
- Then what are the means of influence upon the debtors?
- We put them on the black list, and in the next elections they will not be
entitled to receive state funds and to use air time without paying. <...>
Also, all the associations that garnered less than 2% of votes will be
obligated to repay to us at the Central Electoral Committee 220,000 Rbl
issued to them by the state budget, as well as to pay for the transportation
- In which order should the money be repaid?
- First to us, at the Central Electoral Commission, then to TV and radio
stations, to newspapers and magazines, and then to private donors. But
everything looks like it won't get that far.
- Yevgenii Ivanovich, are you sure the CEC will be able to force the
electoral associations to pay its 220,000 roubles each?
- Sure. We will get hold of them. Either they pay money, or we will bankrupt
them. If the party cannot pay its debts, then it has no right to exist.
After all, we at the CEC warned them in advance of their financial
responsibility when they were going to take part in the elections.
THE LIST OF PARTIES THAT FELL BELOW 5 % THRESHOLD:
1. Communists, Toilers of Russia - for Soviet Union --- 2,25%
2. Women of Russia --- 2,06%
3. Party of Pensioners --- 2,03%
4. Our Home Is Russia --- 1,22%
5. Russian Party in Defense of Women --- 0,81%
6. The Stalin Bloc - for the USSR --- 0,62%
7. Congress of Russian Communities and the Yury Boldyrev Movement --- 0,62%
8. For Human Dignity --- 0,62%
9. Movement in Support of the Army ---- 0,59%
10. Peace, Labor, May --- 0,58%
11. The Bloc of General Andrey Nikolaev and Academician Svyatoslav
Fyodorov --- 0,57%
12. Party for Peace and Unity ---- 0,38%
13. Russian All-National Union ---- 0,36%
14. Russian Socialist Party --- 0,24%
15. Russian Cause ---- 0,18%
16. Conservative Movement of Russia --- 0,13%
17. All-Russian Political Party of the People --- 0,11%
18. Socialist Party of Russia --- 0,10%
19. Spiritual Heritage --- 0,10%
20. Social Democrats ---- 0,08%
Yelene Yegorova, Yelena Korotkova
December 24, 1999
WHY THE GOVERNORS BETRAYED "FATHERLAND"
(translation for personal use only)
<...> The inevitable occurred. OVR has split. Regional leaders, who had been
faithful allies to Luzhkov and Primakov on tactical issues, expressed their
will to set up a deputies' group of their own. For their part, the Agrarians
that made it to the Duma on the OVR list, also reclaimed their right of
It may seem that there is nothing extraordinary in this decision. The
governors' and agrarians' plans had been known as early as at the time of
the second OVR congress. But the leaders of the movement were clearly not
prepared to this course of events. The bloc managed to bring only thirty six
deputies on its party list. Add to this thirty deputies from the
single-member districts. That is sixty-six total. But you need at least
twice as much in order to register three independent factions. In other
words, the ultimatum of the regional leaders raises the question of whether
the OVR faction will actually exist in the Duma.
On Tuesday evening, the coordinating council of the movement held its
session in the bloc's headquarters on Kadashevskaya in the atmosphere of
utmost secrecy. In spite of the blizzard, even regularly accredited
journalists were not allowed to enter the building. The forces at the
session were clearly unequal. Even the most prominent members of the
"Fatherland" [Luzhkov's party within OVR] - such as Sergei Yastzhembsky,
Aleksandr Vladislavlev and Vladimir Yevtushenkov - had ended up without
their seats in the new Duma. Among prospective candidates for the
speakership, the name of Yevgenii Primakov was not mentioned even once. As
for the regional leaders - [president of Tatarstan] Mintimer Shaimiev,
[president of Bashkiria] Murtaza Rakhimov, [St.Petersburg governor] Vladimir
Yakovlev, and others - they assembled on a "neutral territory", in the
Federation Council, and agreed upon the following before going to the OVR
headquarters: "A separate group of influence is to be set up. The government
is to be supported."
In fact, you can easily understand the ideologists of "All Russia". The
niche in the Duma that was initially claimed by OVR is now occupied by the
Unity. And the backbone of this alliance was formed by those individuals
with whom the governors can not afford to get into a squabble [i.e. other
governors]. At the same time, for Shaimiev, for Rakhimov, not to speak about
Yakovlev who has his own reelection ahead of him, it makes no sense
whatsoever to spoil their relations with the government. During their
meeting with Putin, they declared unambiguously their full and unconditional
support for his policies. And this in spite of the fact that just a few
hours earlier some other OVR leaders expressed themselves more carefully:
"The issue of no confidence vote is not on the agenda, but on the other hand
we are not going to close our eyes in advance on whatever the government
will be doing..."
As for the governors, they cannot be in opposition to the existing
authorities. This refers even to such independent leaders as Shaimiev and
Rakhimov. All their "freedoms" and licences exist only as long as they are
tolerated by the federal center. The "treaty on delimitation of authority"
[between the center and a federation unit] can be amended on the basis of
the Constitution. <...> Vladimir Yakovlev, who was the first to announce the
setting up of a separate "All Russia" caucus, is also vulnerable. His legacy
from the electoral campaign consists of two criminal cases initiated by the
Interior Ministry. Even though both look dubious, we have seen how big
trouble can come out of much smaller incidents...
<...> At the session of the coordinating council, the decision was made to
preserve the single faction, under the name of OVR-All Russia, but also to
create two additional deputies' groups - the regional and the agrarian. At
the same time, no one at the headquarters was able to explain what is the
meaning of this decision, and where Mr.Kulik and Mr.Lapshin [two Agrarian
party members on the OVR list] will find thirty three more deputies to
qualify as a legally registered group in the Duma.
Yet another danger stems from the serious interest on the part of Deputy
Berezovsky to focus upon the problems of the regions. Boris Abramovich does
not conceal his readiness to put all his efforts and financial resources
into the task of uniting governors around the cabinet. Which means that the
pressure upon Shaimiev, Yakovlev and others will continue to develop. It
looks like the Presidential Administration is not satisfied with having
reduced OVR to third place in the Duma. The Kremlin will make everything
possible so that this abbreviation disappears completely from Russia's
political map in advance of the presidential elections.
US News and World Report
Januay 3, 2000
[for personal use only]
Voters said what, exactly??
As Communists lost their grip, Russians were still perplexed by democracy
By Christian Caryl
MOSCOW. Every election yields contradictory interpretations by winners and
losers. But for sheer schizophrenia, few countries can compete with Russia
following its December 19 parliamentary election. "This is a monumental
victory of liberal ideas," exulted liberal reformer and former Prime Minister
Sergei Kiriyenko, a leader of the triumphant Union of Right Forces. At about
the same time, liberal reformer Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the
not-so-successful Yabloko party, gloomily told journalists that the victory
of pro-Kremlin parties could be taken "as a sign that Russia is still a
Soviet country in many ways."
So who's right? The best answer, perhaps, is that these elections were good
to the reformers' but not necessarily good for democracy. Kiriyenko's party,
fearing for its political life just a few weeks ago, now looks set to play a
key role in the new State Duma, the lower house of the national legislature.
Its big brother, the Unity movement, garnered almost a quarter of the 59
million votes cast in nationwide electionsâ€“not bad for a political movement
that didn't exist three months before. Those victories meant in turn that the
Communist Party, despite getting more votes than the other parties, has lost
its hold over parliament's agenda, perhaps opening the way to tax, land, and
other economic reforms. Kremlin First Deputy Chief of Staff Igor
Shabdurasulov spoke of the election outcome as a "peaceful revolution."
Ironically, however, the democrats' victory once again throws into relief the
limits of Russia's experiment in democracy. Exhibit 1: The stunning success
of the Unity Bloc. Yes, it received the endorsement of Vladimir Putin, the
undeniably popular prime minister. But the group's ideology and most of its
personnel remained a mystery throughout the campaign. Only its leader,
Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, enjoys any kind of familiarity among
ordinary Russians and that is mainly because of backing by the Kremlin and
its business allies (particularly financier Boris Berezovsky), who control
the only two TV channels in Russia that have truly national reach. For
months, news broadcasts on the two networks conducted a relentless pro-Unity
propaganda campaign. Opponents were defamed or blacked out altogether. Says
Robert Coalson, an American who studies Russian media policy: "The
performance of the Unity Bloc, and to a lesser extent of the Right Forces,
will demonstrate the usefulness of having very sharp control over the media,
and this will make it much more difficult for politicians to break that
Strong influence. Meanwhile, Russia's powerful regional leaders also used the
elections to shape the vote for their allies in Moscow. "The areas that had
the lowest number of observers had the largest vote for Unity," notes analyst
Boris Kagarlitsky. "Don't you think that's suspicious?" Pro-Kremlin governors
weren't the only ones to pull this sort of maneuver, he quickly adds;
provinces controlled by allies of the opposition Fatherland-All Russia Party
displayed the same pattern.
At the same time, it's worth remembering that the survival of Russian
democracy isn't just about holding elections. It's also about whether Russian
society can promote and sustain the growth of civil society, the intricate
web of independent groups and voices that provide a counterweight to the
government. But here, too, there are grounds for concern. This summer, for
example, Russia's nongovernment organizations were hit with a government
order to "re-register" with the Justice Ministry. But what started out as the
usual bureaucratic obstacle course has turned into what human rights
activists say is an unsubtle harassment campaign seeking to shut down as many
as 30,000 independent organizations. "Re-registration problems are aimed
mainly at organizations that criticize the powers that be," says Yuri
Dzhibladze, president of the Center for the Development of Democracy and
Human Rights in Moscow. In good Soviet style, the campaign was accompanied by
articles in the Russian press accusing independent organizations of fronting
for Western intelligence services. And in some cases, especially unlucky
groups also got visits from the Federal Security Service, the FSB, which at
that time was still headed by none other than Putin, the former KGB agent and
present prime minister.
And that isn't the worst of it. Putin's watch at the FSB (from July 1998
until August 1999) coincided, in part, with a series of high-profile
prosecutions of environmental activists accused of "betraying state secrets"
(actually publicizing the lackadaisical disposal of dangerous nuclear waste
by the Russian military). And in October, soon after Putin left the agency,
the FSB arrested a Russian researcher in nuclear nonproliferation issues
named Igor Sutyagin; his U.S. research partner, Josh Handler, fled Russia
soon after. Putin himself has accused environmental organizations in Russia
of providing cover for foreign espionage organizations.
Alexei Yablokov, a leading environmental whistleblower whose organization ran
into problems during the re-registration campaign, sees a larger pattern in
recent years of bureaucrats dramatically expanding the definition of "state
secrets" --a major blow against the freedom of information. Even though he's
heartened by the reformers' victory in recent parliamentary elections,
Yablokov says that many of his fellow activists are uneasy about the man who
now seems headed toward becoming Russia's next president. Some say that
Putin's heart is with the liberal reformers from his native St. Petersburg,
while others worry that he, like his two predecessors, rose to power through
the security agencies. "We don't know what to expect from Putin," Yablokov
admits. On that, he's not alone.
The Economist (UK)
December 25-31, 1999
[for personal use only]
Russia's new Duma
A fresh start, perhaps but don't bank on it
IT COULD have been a lot worse. For one thing, the election to fill Russia's
lower house of parliament, the Duma, was more or less free and more or less
fair, despite some dirty tricks and the bias of the state media towards
parties favoured by the Kremlin. That in itself was an achievement, in the
land of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible. Secondly, the parties that would run
Russia even worse than those already misgoverning it now look less likely to
win power than they did before either as the motor of a new administration or
as the force behind the new president due to take office next summer.
For the Communists, in particular, this was a bad election. Despite winning
more seats than any other party, they now seem unable to capture more than a
quarter of the vote. Unless they shed most of their old-fashioned
policies--and therefore become less worrying--they are unlikely ever to win
the presidency, which holds much more power than the Duma and is therefore a
much bigger prize. The vote for the parties on the anti-democratic, overtly
militaristic, Slavophile right went down too, which was heartening, even if
it could be explained by the increasingly nationalist appeal of almost all
the mainstream parties. However, it was reassuring that assorted would-be
reformers did better than expected.
To some extent, the election's victor was the current prime minister,
Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB man who, after only four months in the job,
promises a mixture of iron fist and economic reform. He did not actually lead
a party into the electoral fray, but he blessed the most ebullient of the
newcomers, a party called Unity, better known to ordinary Russians by its
symbol, a bear. He also has friends in the Union of Right-Wing Forces, which
includes among its members several radical reformers, and which also did
better than expected.
So there are some grounds for hope. With luck, the new Duma will prove more
ready than its predecessor to co-operate with President Boris Yeltsin, which
could bring an end, for the six months or so until the end of his term, to
years of drift, stalling and squabbling with the Kremlin. The Duma will be
doing Russians a favour if it now gets down to doing its proper job, notably
passing a budget and bringing in sensible laws to simplify the tax, land and
investment codes. Even before it does that, though, it should encourage the
government to find a peaceful end to the war in Chechnya. Now that the
campaign is over, and with it the competition among candidates to outdo each
other's chauvinism, Russia has a chance to make a fresh start.
Whether it will take it is much less certain. For the election also had some
big winners that were much less cheerful: dirty money, media manipulation,
crude sloganeering, xenophobic nationalism. The extraordinary rise in Mr
Putin's popularity is almost entirely due to his so far brutally efficient
handling of the war in Chechnya. And the success of the Unity party rested
largely on its grasp of Mr Putin's coat-tails. It was notably loth during the
campaign to elaborate on anything that might be described as a policy.
As far as Chechnya is concerned, neither Mr Yeltsin nor Mr Putin shows any
sign of a willingness to negotiate. On the contrary, Mr Putin's career now
seems firmly dependent on the success of unrelenting military force. Unless
he takes his moment of electoral victory as the time to change strategy, he
could be making a historic blunder. Already, the Russians' wholesale bombing
and indiscriminate killing of civilians have been out of all proportion to
the alleged crimes of the terrorists against whom the war is supposedly being
fought. Having resulted in countless deaths and the flight of at least
200,000 civilians, these tactics promise to poison relations not just with
the Chechens but with Muslims much farther afield. And even if Chechnya's
capital, Grozny, is captured, the Chechen problem will not disappear.
Guerrilla warfare and more terrorism will probably ensue. In any event, it is
still possible that the Russians will get a bloody nose, as they did in
Too soon to be Putin on the ritz
In that event, Mr Putin's popularity could plummet and Russian politics could
soon return to its old paralysis. That is far from unthinkable: what the Duma
election shows above all is the changeability of Russian politics. In barely
a decade, parties advocating variously absurd panaceas have shot up and down
as fast as Mr Yeltsin has hired and fired his prime ministers. Mr Putin,
untested as he is, and lacking any known views, looks pretty spry today. In
three months' time, he could be as tattered as any of his predecessors.
President Putin? In Russia only fools make firm predictions.
Mr Putin would certainly be foolish to base a presidential campaign on the
prospect of military victory in Chechnya. The West, perhaps in the shape of
the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, should persist with
offers of mediation. If Mr Putin wants to show the world that he is more of a
statesman than a bully-boy, he would be wise to accept such offers. That, in
turn, might enable him to demonstrate that he has a vision for his country
that goes beyond the range of a howitzer and a pile of dead Chechens.
The Economist (UK)
December 25-31, 1999
Russia's Cooperative New Duma
Very like a bear
M O S C O W
Russia's election result is just what the Kremlin wanted
LIBERALS and centrists triumph, Communists stall, extremists go nowhere, the
people back a tough but reformist prime minister: Russia's parliamentary
election result sounds a bit too good to be true.
It is certainly startling. From the depths of unpopularity six months ago,
the Kremlin has bounced back. Its hastily constructed and heavily promoted
new party, Unity, with its symbol of a bear, won nearly a quarter of the vote
on the party lists that account for half the Duma's 450 seats. Though it did
less well in the other half of the seats--the constituency contests, where
candidates are elected on a first-past-the-post system--Unity will have at
least 76 seats in all. The parties' real strength will become clear only
after the Duma meets next month, and the 110-odd independents show their
colours. But clearly no party, or natural alliance of parties, will have
enough seats to make or break governments or bring down a president at will.
The other main pro-government party, the Union of Right-Wing Forces, did
reasonably well. Earlier this year it seemed to be facing oblivion. Most
Russians despise its professed "reformism", which they associate with the
looting of state industry by insiders. But it took 8% of the vote, probably
giving it 29 seats. Add 17 seats for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's oddball party,
which sounds extreme but usually votes for the Kremlin, and another seven for
the faded Our Home is Russia, and the government side of the Duma starts off
with around 129 members.
The biggest opposition party, the Communists, did much as expected, winning a
quarter of the vote--just ahead of Unity--and plenty of local contests. It
will have about 111 seats. The opposition grouping most feared and most
venomously denounced by the Kremlin, Fatherland-All Russia, won only 12% of
the vote. Its better performance in the constituencies means that it will
send about 62 members to the incoming Duma.
In the middle will be independents, mostly sponsored by regional governors or
tycoons. The shape of the new Duma, which is due to meet on January 19th,
will depend on which factions they join or form. Mostly lacking strong
political views, and thus open to persuasion of one kind or another, they can
be expected to make the new Duma a bit more malleable for the Kremlin than
the old one. But it will still not be particularly friendly. Several dozen
deputies will probably join groups that invariably vote against Kremlin
wishes. If it wins over the 22 liberals of Yabloko, an independent-minded
centre-left party, the opposition could still muster a majority on some
So long as the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, retains his huge personal
popularity, he is likely to get most of what he wants from the Duma. But it
will be tricky. Although Unity gives him docile votes, it is notably short of
talent, its ranks stuffed with second-rate showbiz figures and minor regional
politicians. It is hard to see Unityâ€™s members in the Duma leading a
determined defence of, say, a tough budgetâ€”which will be especially awkward
if, as seems likely, the $1.8 billion due in 2000 from the IMF remains held
up because of the Chechen war.
An even bigger question is how Mr Putin and his backers will now approach the
presidential election due in the summer. Some of his friends worry that he
has peaked too soon. Perhaps, it is said, Mr Yeltsin will resign early,
making Mr Putin the acting president and giving him the strongest possible
base for an election campaign. But there are also signs that other people in
the Kremlin are nervous about him. If they moved fast, they might conceivably
be able to ditch him and find someone more willing to keep the cash flowing
into the right pockets.
That still seems unlikely. A frighteningly successful ally is probably better
than exile or corruption charges, which seemed to threaten some Kremlin
cronies until recently. And finding another plausible candidate, especially
one to run against Mr Putin, would be hard even for the Kremlinâ€™s political
More likely, the new year will witness officialdom turning once again on the
losers of the election. The bosses of Moscow and St Petersburg were the main
movers behind Fatherland. Their business friends have been scampering for
cover, possibly fearing corruption charges. The media empire of Vladimir
Gusinsky, which runs NTV, the only big anti-Kremlin television channel, is
another tempting target. An anti-corruption crusade, however biased, would go
down well both with Russian voters and in the West.
It would also help to counterbalance the news from Chechnya. Although the
Chechens are retreating, the timetable for the much-promised final victory
continues to slip. Russia is using more and more force, taking ever greater
risks, and telling bigger and bigger lies. It remains too soon to predict a
Russian paratroops have made a spectacular advance into the mountains of
southern Chechnya, cutting off, they say, the main route that the Chechen
fighters have been using from Georgia next door. But it is the sort of
manoeuvre that can go very wrong. Russian troops have encircled Chechnyaâ€™s
capital, Grozny, and are moving towards the centre, but have been suffering
quite heavy casualties. Two western news-agency reporters saw more than 100
Russian dead and seven blown-up tanks after one advance. In bombast
reminiscent of the cold war, Russian officials denounced their account as a
lie, probably spread by the Westâ€™s secret services.
Other signs that the Russians are not yet on top include a report, also
denied by Russian military spokesmen, of a massacre in the village of
Alkhan-Yurt, where more than 40 Chechen civilians are said to have been
killed during a rampage by Russian soldiers. Russia also denies Georgian
claims that its aircraft this week bombed Shatili, a Georgian village near
the Chechen border.
Russiaâ€™s voters seem increasingly to want an early end to the war, but
is little sign that the newly elected politicians are heeding them. The real
message of the election is that, though Russians are loth to vote for
extremists, the other choices facing them are still pretty dismal. Andâ€”the
war apartâ€”Mr Putin has yet to reveal what he intends to do.
25 December 1999
[for personal use only]
Russian Pins Election Defeat on War Hysteria
By David Hoffman
MOSCOW. When Grigory Yavlinsky called for a bombing halt and peace talks in
Chechnya last month, it was in keeping with his reputation as a voice of the
democratic opposition in parliament, speaking out against corruption, war,
authoritarianism and other excesses of the new Russia.
But Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, the lower
house of parliament, was rowing against the tide. Shocked by terrorist
bombings of four Russian apartment houses in which nearly 300 people were
killed, the public was howling for blood, and revenge.
In Sunday's elections, they rebuffed Yavlinsky. His party, one of the few
with a genuine grass-roots base here, barely squeaked past the minimum 5
percent of the vote needed to qualify for representation in the Duma, getting
5.98 percent. Thus Yavlinsky's group will have only about 25 votes in the
next session of the 450-seat Duma, down from 45 in the last one.
On Thursday, Yavlinsky was unbowed. He blamed his losses on the war hysteria
in the country, the slavish attitude of the mass media and the powers of the
Kremlin to manipulate both.
Yavlinsky's lament goes to the heart of the election results; Russians are
not listening to critical voices. After a long period of fragmentation, the
country has coalesced behind Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but Yavlinsky
remains in opposition, as he has for years, saying that something is not
Yavlinsky said that the country has blindly followed Putin with a passive,
Soviet-era mentality. This, he said, explains the success of Unity--a
neophyte party created by the Kremlin and some influential tycoons--which
will be parliament's second-largest faction.
"Russia remains a Soviet country to a large extent," he said. "If the Central
Committee of the [Soviet] Communist Party had existed for 10 more years, it
would be running exactly this sort of election . . . because in the
Russian-Soviet culture there is peculiarity. I would describe it this way--a
carnival political culture, the culture of disguises, when people do not want
to think, analyze, or calculate seriously."
In its television campaign, Yabloko aired grainy black-and-white commercials
invoking nostalgia for earlier generations, but some analysts said the
campaign was weak, especially at a time when the reformist Union of Right
Forces successfully targeted young voters.
"These must have been our best commercials in four campaigns," Yavlinsky
said. "But the concept was worked out when no houses were blown up yet. Of
course, against the background of exploded houses, everything we thought of
for our election campaign dimmed immediately.
"It's a question I'd like to ask my colleagues all over the world," he added.
"How would liberal democrats in any other country of the world conduct their
election campaign if houses with people get blown up, sleeping people? What
kind of commercials can one show? I don't know.
"Had not the campaign been held in war conditions, had the campaign not
started with explosions of houses that brought the whole society to a state
when it was hard to hold any elections at all, had not the campaign been
built around the figure of one man," Yavlinsky said, "the results for Yabloko
. . . would have been twice greater, probably."
Yavlinsky, 47, has been at the center of economic and political upheaval for
more than a decade. An economist, he was co-author of a famous plan--never
adopted--in the final years of the Soviet Union to make the leap to the
market economy in 500 days. Yabloko was founded six years ago.
He complained bitterly about the way two pro-Kremlin television channels
bowed to Putin in this election, saying, "The party that really won the
elections is ORT," the nationwide television channel under the partial
ownership of tycoon Boris Berezovsky, which campaigned incessantly for Putin
and his allies.
Critics say Yavlinsky too often has been outside the government, carping, and
this may be why he lost strength in the Duma.
But he insisted that his place was in parliament. "Our government is like a
brothel," he said. "Once you enter, it's very difficult to say you called in
for a cup of tea. Having worked in government, it is impossible to explain
afterward that I joined it to work, not to steal. This is very hard."
December 24, 1999
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
PUTIN UNVEILS HIS OWN THINK-TANK
Alexei MAKARKIN and Georgy OSIPOV
The Russian Government's center of strategic studies,
which has made its appearance the other day, will apparently
play the part of Russia's main policy-making organization,
which would be expected to relegate other parties and
movements to the background.
The first candidates, who are likely to assume key
positions inside Vladimir Putin's Cabinet, have already
surfaced. First of all, the list of such candidates includes
Dmitry Kozak in charge of the Government's administration, who
also heads the trusteeship council of the above-mentioned
center of strategic studies, and who would also like to serve
as chief of Putin's campaign headquarters. Apart from that,
one should mention Gherman Gref, who heads the center's
council, as well as the center's president Dmitry Mezentsev.
By the way, all three men are descended from St. Petersburg.
Kozak had chaired the St. Petersburg legal committee under
Anatoly Sobchak and Vladimir Yakovlev, subsequently becoming
appointed to the post of the presidential administration's
chief in Moscow this past spring. They say that Kozak's
appointment had been secured by the then FSB (Federal Security
Service) director Vladimir Putin. Gref and Putin also know
each other very well. In fact, Gref used to head St.
Petersburg's state-property management committee at a time
when Putin had served as deputy premier of the municipal
government. Gref, who is a new-comer in Moscow, had assumed
his current position last year. For his own part, Mezentsev
used to head the St. Petersburg publishing and mass-media
committee ever since 1991, leaving for Moscow in 1996 together
with Putin and signing up as deputy chairman of the Russian
Federation's State Publishing Committee.
It ought to be mentioned in this connection that previous
Russian governments had also established similar centers of
strategic studies. However, one gets the impression that
Vladimir Putin is now building a genuinely efficient
structure, as he attracts prospective staffers eager to make
it into high places. What program will the incipient center of
strategic studies ultimately conceive? And how feasible will
that program be? Well, this is seen as something irrelevant at
this stage. However, Putin's efforts to consolidate society
within the framework of his projected presidential campaign
seem to be more interesting.
24 December, 1999
Russia to double education funds
Pledge made at awards ceremony
Russia says it is going to double its spending on education next year.
The Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, made the pledge at a Kremlin
ceremony to present awards to the country's top teachers.
Mr Putin said Russia's most valuable asset was its intellectual potential,
and the government had not done enough about it.
"We say confidently quite often that Russia is a rich and great country," he
"We are proud of our mineral resources, our industry, the defense sector and
the army. But the chief asset is the intellectual potential of the nation."
Mr Putin did not give figures and it is not clear whether the budget, which
has already been passed through parliament, can accommodate his promise.
Riding a wave of support for Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, the
Russian prime minister emphasised that special awards were given this year to
instructors and administrators at military colleges.
"This is to symbolize the attention of the state to the training of military
personnel," he said.
December 24, 1999
Mothers, Military Differ on War's Casualty Count
By Natalya Shulyakovskaya
With the Russian military encountering tougher resistance as it closes in on
the Chechen capital, Grozny, it is becoming murkier just how many Russian
soldiers have been killed.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says a prime concern in not hurrying to storm
Grozny is the desire to minimize casualties. It's difficult to say how well
The Defense Ministry reports 404 servicemen killed between Aug. 2, when
Russia attacked a band of guerrillas who had invaded Dagestan from Chechnya,
and Dec. 16, the latest date for which figures are available, spokesman Igor
The ministry also reported 1,033 men wounded between Aug. 2 and Dec. 9.
However, soldiers in Chechnya come not only from Defense Ministry units, but
also from the Interior Ministry's troops. The Interior Ministry reported 44
killed and 116 wounded between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, spokeswoman Galina
Gordeyeva said. The ministry did not provide figures for the period between
Aug. 2. and Oct. 1.
The official numbers seemed to be supported by the main forensic laboratory
that certifies the deaths of servicemen - but it is unlikely to process every
Alexander Tikhonov, deputy head of the Rostov forensic lab, which is handling
most of the bodies of servicemen killed in Chechnya, said that so far his lab
has received about 340 bodies of troops serving with the Defense Ministry.
"And so far, we've only had no more than 10 or 12 bodies of Interior Ministry
servicemen," Tikhonov said.
But the Union of Soldiers' Mothers' Committees, a grass-roots parents network
that looks for soldiers who have been captured or killed, says the militar
y's figures are too low. The truth, said Valentina Melnikova, a spokeswoman
for the group, is that the official figures should be multiplied by three.
"Our estimate of 1,000 already dead and 3,000 wounded is a bare minimum,"
said Melnikova, whose organization has frequent contact with the parents of
killed or missing soldiers. "They are lying like mad."
The union has asked President Boris Yeltsin and the military to publish an
official weekly log of soldiers who have been killed, wounded or taken
captive. But so far, the only official reaction was a letter from the
Security Council sending the mothers to the official hot line.
"But information there is obsolete," Melnikova says. "We have already run
into situations when boys who were wounded were still listed there as
participating in action."
Valeria Pantyukhina of the Mother's Rights Foundation, which helps parents
whose sons have been killed in the military during wars and peacetime, agreed
with the Soldiers' Mothers estimates.
In recent days, the military has tightened up any flow of information from
Chechnya, Russian media and the Soldiers' Mothers complained.
Melnikova said that official numbers sometimes don't include deaths of
seriously wounded soldiers in hospitals. She said her organization has
recorded multiple cases when wounded solders were brought to village
hospitals near the front line and died without making it to military
hospitals in the rear - and were not recorded as combat fatalities.