|CDI Library > Johnson's
Johnson's Russia List
2 January 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Sunday Times (UK): Mark Franchetti, Yeltsin slinks from stage with an immunity deal.
2. New York Times editorial: Russia's Flawed Reformer.
3. The Guardian (UK): Tsar Boris's many faces: the fool, the patriot, the crook. John Sweeney opens up the nest of bizarre Yeltsin dolls.
4. The Electonic Telegraph (UK): Philip Sherwell, Moscow's fight for oil cash fuels Chechen conflict.
5. Washington Post: Mark Kramer, Russia Without Yeltsin.
6. New York Times: Richard Pipes, Yeltsin Goes, Uncertainty Remains.
7. Stratfor.com: Presidents & The Price of Pardon.
8. Ha'Aretz (Israel): Isabella Ginor, Putin's deal and potential undoing.
9. Stratfor.com: How the West Killed Yeltsin.
10. Frank Durgin: A query.]
The Sunday Times (UK)
January 2, 2000
[for personal use only]
Yeltsin slinks from stage with an immunity deal
Mark Franchetti, Moscow
TO THE casual observer, it appeared to be little more than a regular meeting
of senior Kremlin advisers. When a fleet of black Mercedes limousines with
flashing blue lights rolled up last month at a secluded presidential dacha on
the outskirts of Moscow, they disgorged some of the most powerful figures in
Boris Yeltsin was among them. So, too, was Vladimir Putin, the hawkish young
former KGB spy whom the then Kremlin leader had already anointed as his heir.
The meeting, which went on for hours, was far from routine, however.
Yesterday, as Putin marked his first full day as acting president after
Yeltsin's startling New Year's Eve resignation, the significance of what
happened behind the closed doors of the dacha began to emerge.
Russians did not know it yet, but those present had hammered out the terms of
an unprecedented deal whereby the ailing Kremlin leader would step down and
pave the way for Putin, named as prime minister four months earlier. An epoch
in Russian history was about to end.
Yeltsin's wife, Naina, and Tatyana Dyachenko - his daughter and one of his
closest political advisers - appeared to have accepted months earlier that
the president, first elected in 1991, would find it difficult to serve out
his second term, which was due to expire in June.
With his health eroded by a string of ailments ranging from heart disease to
a bad back - and exacerbated by a predilection for vodka - Yeltsin had long
been a shadow of the energetic leader who had climbed defiantly aboard a tank
in Moscow to lead opposition to the failed hardline communist putsch of
Although he was assured of his place in the history books as the man who
finally broke Russia's links with its Soviet past, members of his entourage
were concerned at the treatment he - and they - would receive at the hands of
whoever took his place in the Kremlin.
For months, both Yeltsin and Dyachenko had been at the centre of a
multi-million-pound corruption scandal following disputed allegations that
bribes were paid by Mabetex, a Swiss construction company, in return for
lucrative contracts to refurbish it.
Together with other close aides, they had been accused of personally
profiting from state contracts through the use of foreign bank accounts and
credit cards paid off by Mabetex. The Kremlin has denied any wrongdoing.
Yeltsin also feared being prosecuted in a witch-hunt orchestrated by his
communist enemies for overseeing the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end
of 1991 and starting the 1994-96 war in Chechnya, the breakaway republic,
where the Russian army is again fighting Islamic rebels.
The deal - reached in the dacha and confirmed in one of Putin's first
initiatives as acting president - gave the Family, as they have become known
in Russian political circles, all the guarantees they needed. Yeltsin was
granted immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed during his nine
years in office. He cannot be detained or arrested and his premises cannot be
searched. Nor can he be interrogated or subjected to a body search.
In addition, he and all future outgoing Russian presidents are entitled to a
pension equal to 75% of their salary, personal bodyguards for themselves and
members of their family, medical care, a state residence and car and a staff
of aides. In what could be the ultimate guarantee of the outgoing president's
untouchability, Putin also agreed to retain Dyachenko and Alexander Voloshin,
the head of Yeltsin's Kremlin administration, as advisers.
"Yeltsin, but especially his wife and daughter, were terrified of what their
enemies could do to them once he lost power," said one former Kremlin aide.
"In the end that became the main reason why he hung onto power so
desperately. For months they searched for the right man to guarantee them a
safe future. Then they found Putin. He is their man.
"The deal was straightforward. Yeltsin would make Putin his crown prince, but
it was made clear he would only have his chair provided he made it a priority
to look after him. It was an offer Putin could not refuse."
The dramatic move appeared to have been carefully timed to ensure Putin could
win the presidential elections he will have to face after three months as
Had Yeltsin waited until June before stepping down, there was a danger the
tide of the war in Chechnya would have turned against the Russian army,
sending Putin's popularity plummeting as fast as it had risen. A March
election will reduce that risk.
When Putin, 47, a former KGB spy and life-long apparatchik, became prime
minister in September, few ordinary Russians had even heard of him. Four
months later, he looks virtually unbeatable.
Having benefited hugely from the ferocious war in Chechnya, which most
Russians support, he is seen as a leader capable of the decisive action that
has been lacking in Yeltsin's latter years.
His approval ratings at the polls have skyrocketed from 2% to 45%, and
two-thirds of Russians profess confidence in his abilities. About 40% said
last week they expected the year 2000 to be successful - against 16% the year
In recognition, perhaps, of the debt he owes the war for his popularity,
Putin immediately cancelled plans to celebrate the new millennium at the
Bolshoi in Moscow, travelling instead to Chechnya to visit troops.
As state television broadcast proceedings live, he presented officers in
Gudermes, the breakaway republic's second city, with medals and hunting
knives and delivered a patriotic speech thanking them for their support in
"I want you to know that Russia highly appreciates what you are doing," he
told them. "This is not just about restoring the honour and dignity of
Russia. It is rather more important than that. It is about putting an end to
the break-up of the Russian Federation. That is the main task."
His wife, Lyudmila, was at his side. It was only the second time that
Russia's new first lady, a university lecturer about whom very little is
known, had been seen in public: she had first appeared with Naina Yeltsin at
the lying-in-state of Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the former Soviet
Plumes of black smoke, meanwhile, hung over Grozny after low-flying Russian
jets dropped scores of bombs on the Chechen capital in one of the fiercest
bombardments of the campaign.
Putin's first official engagement as acting president will come today when he
meets party leaders in the state Duma, the recently elected lower house of
parliament. Three days later, he will attend a special session of the upper
house, the Federation Council, that is expected to confirm March 26 as the
date for presidential elections.
With less than three months to go until the vote, however, Putin remains in
many ways an unknown quantity. Few voters know exactly what he stands for -
with the exception of the ruthless continuation of the war in Chechnya.
"He is not affable and not particularly charming, despite his attempt to
break the ice during meetings with the odd joke," said one western ambassador
"His background makes him pretty impenetrable and cold, but not in a sinister
way. Rather, he is a man with little experience in dealing with the West. He
is not driven by any strong ideology. Instead, he is highly pragmatic and
rational. We know little about him and it will take time."
Many observers, including Leon Aron, a leading Washington-based expert on
Russian politics, remain convinced that his instincts on economic reform, at
least, are liberal. "During a recent visit to Moscow, I met a number of
leading Russian reformers and they were uniform in the complete confidence
they had in Putin," Aron said. "They said he was a man they could work with."
Putin's lead in the opinion polls - coupled with the advantages of incumbency
- look almost certain to guarantee him election victory, provided there is no
turn for the worse in Chechnya. Judging by last month's parliamentary
elections - which saw unparalleled personal attacks on all sides - the
presidential race will undoubtedly be a dirty one.
Dyachenko and Voloshin were personally credited with orchestrating a vicious
media campaign that severely damaged the chances of the Kremlin's two main
rivals, Yuri Luzhkov, the bullish mayor of Moscow, and Yevgeni Primakov, a
former spy master and foreign minister who recently announced he would run
for president. "Right now if I were Luzhkov or Primakov, I would give up,"
said one of Russia's leading pollsters. "Putin has given Russians a chance to
start shrugging off their inferiority complexes, a chance to begin to feel
better about themselves, despite all the hurdles ahead.
"That is a difficult achievement to beat. There is little they can do, but
this being Russia, Putin knows how suddenly the wind can turn against you. No
matter how strong he is, he will seek to avoid confrontation with his
"If Yeltsin, a man for whom power was like a drug, could be talked into
giving it up with the right deal, then anything can be worked out in Russia.
The time of cutting deals is not over."
New York Times
January 2, 2000
Russia's Flawed Reformer
In suddenly resigning as Russian president on Friday, Boris Yeltsin showed
once again why he will be remembered as a practitioner of the unexpected
political stratagem. Like so many of Mr. Yeltsin's gambits over the years,
the move upended expectations and scrambled Russian politics.
It also came with a promise of immunity from prosecution for Mr. Yeltsin for
any misdeeds of his government. That will likely roil the coming presidential
campaign, a fitting legacy for a courageous but disappointingly erratic man
who guided Russia through the first years of a turbulent, still unfinished
journey from tyranny to democracy.
Mr. Yeltsin's action immediately lifted the presidential prospects of the
politician he hopes will succeed him, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Under
the Russian Constitution, Mr. Putin became acting president when Mr. Yeltsin
stepped aside, and the date for new elections was advanced from June to
March. That gives Mr. Putin the powerful advantage of campaigning as an
incumbent at a time when his popularity is surging because of the Russian
military offensive in Chechnya.
Mr. Yeltsin, for one last time, seemed to be betting that an impulsive, bold
move would turn Russia toward a more promising future. As with earlier
Yeltsin surprises, a positive outcome is far from assured. For one thing, the
political terrain could shift abruptly even by March if Russians became
disillusioned with the attack on Chechnya.
Mr. Putin's political instincts also remain unclear. He is a former K.G.B.
officer and head of Russia's domestic intelligence agency. As prime minister,
he has prosecuted a brutal assault on Chechnya. Yet he has encouraged
economic reform, has talked of the need to improve relations with the West
and is allied with some of Russia's most progressive politicians.
After Mr. Yeltsin's uneven leadership, Russia could use a steady,
reform-minded president who knows how to run an efficient government. Mr.
Yeltsin was the first freely elected leader of Russia. His great strengths
were an iron will and a daring vision for remaking Russia into a free-market
democracy. He was fearless in his drive to rid Russia of Communism, and his
stand against an attempted coup in 1991 kept reform alive. Later that year he
engineered the end of Communist rule in Moscow and the collapse of the Soviet
empire. History will honor him for these acts.
But Mr. Yeltsin proved indifferent at governing. Economic reform was stunted
by corruption, his government failed to collect taxes, and his penchant for
sacking prime ministers often left the Kremlin in disarray. Opposition in the
parliament made governing difficult, but Mr. Yeltsin lacked the discipline to
manage a complex government.
Though he broadly pursued closer ties with the West, and played a helpful
role in ending the war in Kosovo last year, Mr. Yeltsin could be inconsistent
in dealing with foreign issues. His preoccupation with Chechnya wounded
Russia at home and abroad. Weakened by heart problems and respiratory
ailments, he was in recent years a shell of the leader he had been in the
Many Russians will doubtless question the sincerity of the apology Mr.
Yeltsin offered on Friday for the mistakes he made and the economic hardships
that so many of his countrymen have endured. More information will be needed
before anyone can judge whether the decision to spare Mr. Yeltsin from
possible prosecution was warranted or wise.
However, Russians ought not to forget the singular achievement of Boris
Yeltsin. For all his maddening weaknesses, he led his nation toward democracy
after 1,000 years of tyranny.
The Guardian (UK)
2 January 2000
[for personal use only]
Tsar Boris's many faces: the fool, the patriot, the crook
John Sweeney opens up the nest of bizarre Yeltsin dolls
The Tsar of all the unpredictables, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, stunned the
world yet again, this time with news of his sudden exit from power on New
His legacy is very much like a set of Russian matryoshka dolls, though ones
pickled in 70° proof vodka. Beneath the gutsy fighter for democracy doll, the
doll that believed in a new kind of Russia, the hero to the free world who
stood on a tank and dared the neo-Stalinists to seize him, was the
world-class alcoholic doll.
In the annals of East-West détente, diplomats the world over will treasure
the memory of Boris's engagement with the nabobs of Ireland. Kremlin One
landed on Irish soil, but Boris was so fantastically pissed that his
bodyguards would not allow him off the plane. The plane flew off, and all the
dipomatic hoo-hah was cancelled. Beneath the drunk doll was a cunning
operator of the old Soviet era, who had managed to climb up the greasy pole
of the kleptocracy in the dying days of the old Soviet empire under Leonid
Brezhnev, and later became the boss of Moscow, no mean achievement.
Beneath that doll was a clown, an oaf with his hands on the nuclear trigger,
who would happily jiggle his buttocks on stage with a Siberian version of
Abba. Beneath the clown doll was a corrupt chancer, his hands so deeply in
the till with Russia's treasure that at the end of his reign he stood at the
head of a near-gangster state, with crime the country's greatest and most
Beneath the gangster doll was a warlord, happy to send young Russian lads -
and countless wretched civilians - to their deaths in not one but two bloody
adventures in the Caucasus. And the final doll? A son of Mother Russia, a
patriot, yes, and one, thank God, whose impetuousness stopped short of
hitting the nuclear button in the middle of some wild vodka binge.
But Boris Yeltsin will go down in history as the man who launched a New
Russia, which had hoped to be democratic and free and not mired in poverty,
and then drank himself into a stupor as the whole glorious adventure went
rotten from the core. Yeltsin turned out to be too drunk, too sick, too
choleric, too greedy and too corrupt to make old Russia embrace the open
society. His chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, is a thin-lipped, near-silent
ex-spy, an old KGB man with all the hallmarks of an assassin. Not much of a
result for democracy, then; still less a legacy for his country.
There is no doubting Yeltsin's guts, or that he has always been a proper
Russian. In 1930, Ignaty Yeltsin, a well-off peasant of Butka village, in the
Urals' main town of Sverdlovsk, was declared a kulak - a land-owning peasant
- all but a death sentence under Stalin's rolling terror. His house, mill,
farm animals were confiscated by order of the State. His grandfather fled. On
1 February, 1931, a grandson was born to the disgraced family, Boris
Nikolayevich. Soon afterwards the family moved to Kazan, in the land of the
When young Boris was only three, his father, Nikolai Yeltsin, was arrested
and convicted of 'anti-Soviet agitation'. He served three years in Stalin's
notorious gulag, and Boris's mother made ends meet by working as a
seamstress. The young Yeltsin was never a quiet stay-at-home. He blew off two
fingers on his left hand while playing with a live grenade. Boris played
volleyball and graduated in construction at the Ural Polytechnic in
Sverdlovsk. In 1956, three years after Stalin's death, Yeltsin married his
college sweetheart, Naina Iosifovna Girina. They have two daughters, Yelena
and Tatiana, born in 1957 and 1959 respectively.
Yeltsin drank and worked and drank and played tennis and ground his up way
through the stultified hierarchy of the old Soviet Union. He joined the
Communist Party in 1961, and from then on he was firmly planted on the up
escalator of power. A seemingly boring list of job promotions forms the
official history. The real one is more Kafkaesque. In 1977 Yeltsin received
an order from the Kremlin to destroy the beautiful and historic Ipatyev
House, the site of the Bolsheviks' killing of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and
his family in 1918. Yeltsin obeyed. By morning every brick, including the
foundations, had been taken to the city dump and the site was paved with the
In 1985, Yeltsin was moved to Moscow. He was a construction boss, brilliant
at energising workers and getting the factories and houses up. In late 1985,
as the torpor and decay of the old Soviet Union seemed ever more obvious,
Yeltsin was made city boss of Moscow.
But Yeltin's impetuousness got the better of him. In October 1987 he lashed
out at his fellow party bosses, condemning the slow pace of reform. The
knives were out for him and he fell from power. Heart trouble followed. Two
years later he came powering back, elected to the old Soviet parliament as
member for Moscow. In 1990 he was elected Speaker, recognised as the most
reform-minded politician in the country. He scented the change in the air
which the leadership, under Mikhail Gorbachev, feared to act on. In July,
Yeltsin left the party that had broken his grandfather. The Soviet Union
started to splinter. A year later, Yeltsin was elected President of the
Russian Federation. The old, neo-Stalinist guard struck on 20 August, 1991,
seizing Gorbachev in the Crimea and seeking Yeltsin's resignation.
Instead Yeltsin drove down to the centre of Moscow, stepped on tank number
110, and told the coup plotters to get stuffed - or words to that effect. The
coup crumbled, but Gorbachev was finished too. Yeltsin stepped smartly into
the power vacuum and created the new Russia. As was his right, he became its
first President, but the economy, freed from the grip of dirigisme, all but
collapsed. Crime grew rampant and Yeltsin signally failed to get a grip on
the State's finances. The wags called the first stage of his economic reforms
'shock without therapy'.
Worse was to follow. But the old guard had not had their final say. They
seized the White House of Russia. Yeltsin called in the army and the building
was shelled with tanks and set on fire. The plotters gave in.
The economy was not so easy. On Black Tuesday, 11 October, 1994, the rouble
lost over a fifth of its value in one day. Yeltsin started to back off from
the liberal reforms he had supported earlier and a horrible mutant emerged, a
kind of Leninist-Capitalism, its new, almighty barons the gangsters of a
violent kleptocracy. Word started to seep out of the Kremlin that Yeltsin
might also be on the take.
Under threat at home for his economic failures, the close of 1994 saw the
start of a miserable adventure: the first war in Chechnya. Badly led troops,
often 19-year-old conscripts, were picked off by the Chechen fighters. In
1995 Yeltsin's heart started to pack in. He had two heart attacks, but the
doctors patched him together.
The closing years of the Yeltsin rule were ignoble. Prime Ministers were
appointed, then fired, with bewildering speed. The core problems - the
gangsters, the inertia of the Soviet mind-set, a lack of honesty from top to
bottom - lay untackled.
International investigators on the trail of Russia's dirty money kept on
coming across the names of his family, cronies, and that of Yeltsin himself.
In a final throw of the dice, he got himself a new Prime Minister,
VladimirPutin. The secret deal behind the public palaver is that Putin gets
power now, ahead of the pack of rivals for the presidential elections;
Yeltsin gets immunity from prosecution, now. Whether Putin will stick with
the deal, or throw Yeltsin to the dogs when it suits him, we shall see. For
the moment, one can only note the passing of an old, sick doll that had
finally run out of tricks.
The Electonic Telegraph (UK)
2 January 2000
[for personal use only]
Moscow's fight for oil cash fuels Chechen conflict
By Philip Sherwell in Tbilisi
AS Russian troops fought their way through the streets of Grozny last week,
strategists in the Kremlin had their eyes on a different - and highly
lucrative - target several hundred miles to the east: the vast oil deposits
beneath the Caspian Sea.
Moscow is waging more than a military campaign in Chechnya. It is also
fighting for access to the Caspian Sea oil reserves pumped to the West
through the former Soviet state of Georgia by a British-headed consortium,
the Azerbaijan International Oil Company. The region's pipeline politics are
a striking parallel to the latest James Bond film, The World is Not Enough,
in which tycoons, terrorists and spies vie for control of the Caspian's oil
in the former Soviet Union.
There are two pipelines running from Baku, the bustling Azerbaijani capital
known to Western expatriates as "Oil Dorado". The original route - north-west
through Dagestan and Chechnya to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk -
was closed this year, a few months before the current conflict began. But, to
the fury of Moscow, the Baku-based AIOC consortium, headed by BP Amoco, built
a second pipeline to skirt Russian territory, removing Moscow's political
control over the oil flow to the West and the millions of pounds it earned
Plans to build another AIOC pipeline from Baku through Georgia and south to
the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan have heightened the belief in Russia
that the West is attempting to impose its political and economic writ over
the southern flanks of Moscow's dwindling empire in the Caucasus and central
Asia. In the region's power politics, Turkey is firmly in the West's camp.
Russia is now fighting back and the Transneft oil transport company last week
announced that the first stage of a Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline by-passing
Chechnya has been completed. However, the costs of the new route will be
prohibitive if the company cannot woo foreign investors.
And that means that winning the war in Chechnya is crucial for Moscow's oil
politics. Victory would give back control of the troubled northern pipeline
through Grozny. Just as significantly, it would also allow the Kremlin to
resort to its old trouble-making tactics in Georgia: a tactic that could harm
the country's pivotal role as a transit route to the West for Caspian oil.
With its ethnic pot-pourri and separatist movements, Georgia is the most
unstable of the Caucasian states that gained independence eight years ago.
Moscow is already believed to have backed assassination attempts on President
Eduard Shevardnadze and sponsored separatist groups in flashpoint areas.
The confrontation between Russia and Georgia is deepening. Moscow has accused
Tbilisi of backing "terrorists" for refusing to agree to joint
Russian-Georgian border patrols along the Chechen frontier and for accepting
Chechen refugees. Georgia countered that Moscow's helicopters and jets had
routinely breached its air space and that Russian rockets had slammed into
A Western oil analyst said: "Part of the Russian strategy is to reassert
their influence in the Caucasus. They have been sidelined there for the past
five years and their involvement in Caspian exploration is minimal.
control of the pipeline through Chechnya is undoubtedly a reason for the
But the realities of international geo-politics leave no other pipeline
options. Washington refuses to countenance a southern route through Iran,
while few in the West would want to be dependent on oil delivered via Russia.
BP, which merged with Amoco last year, has invested more than £300 million in
Azerbaijan over the past decade.
The current Georgian pipeline carries about 100,000 barrels of Azeri crude
oil a day, a figure that can be increased several-fold, even if the new route
through Turkey - a project that could cost up to £2.5 billion - is not
In the office of the AIOC's Tbilisi partner, a sticker proclaims: "Happiness
is multiple pipelines." But the machinations and plotting of the new Bond
film provide a more accurate backdrop to events in the Caucasus.
2 January 2000
[for personal use only]
Russia Without Yeltsin
By Mark Kramer
The writer is the director of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies.
After eight years in office as the first president of an independent Russia,
Boris Yeltsin chose the final day of 1999 to resign. His health had been poor
for many years, but virtually no observers inside or outside Russia had
expected that he would voluntarily relinquish power.
The odds-on successor to Yeltsin is the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who
has taken over as acting president. In the past four months, Putin has
achieved remarkably high popularity ratings in a country that usually regards
its politicians with great cynicism. Putin will face one or two strong
challengers, but unless something goes drastically wrong between now and the
time presidential elections are held in March, he will almost certainly win
by a wide margin.
Politically, Yeltsin achieved a good deal. Although Russia is not yet close
to being a liberal democracy, the country is vastly better off than it was
during the many years of Soviet dictatorship. Three sets of parliamentary
elections have been held since the early 1990s, and a second presidential
election will be held next year. (Yeltsin's resignation means the election
will be held a few months earlier than scheduled.) For the first time in its
history, Russia will experience a peaceful transfer of executive power.
The advent of regular, free elections has been accompanied by the emergence
of a lively press. Although Russia's law on state secrets hinders the media,
and although many journalists are beholden to corporate interests, state
censorship is no longer a serious issue in Russia. For that, Yeltsin deserves
There is little indication that Putin will seek to reverse these political
accomplishments. Although Putin made his career in the Soviet KGB and its
successor agency, he has displayed no inclination to do away with elections
or to reimpose state control of the press. One of the most heartening results
of the Yeltsin era is that all politicians of any standing in Russia--with
the possible exception of the Communists--now accept free elections and an
independent press as the only acceptable means of running the country. Even
the Communists compete avidly in elections.
Against Yeltsin's political achievements, his economic record is dim. For a
few months after taking office at the end of 1991, he pursued a radical
economic program. But in the early spring of 1992, he made the momentous
decision to back away, and Russia has been paying the cost ever since.
Given the onerous economic situation Yeltsin inherited from the Soviet
regime, it would have been difficult for anyone to turn the economy around.
But the ill-considered, half-hearted reforms that Yeltsin ended up pursuing
made things worse. During his tenure, corruption and criminality pervaded the
Russian economy, and millions of workers and pensioners went for months
without being paid.
This economic legacy will pose a formidable challenge for Putin. He has no
background in market economics, and he has been relatively subdued in his
statements about economic policy since taking over as prime minister in
Nonetheless, there are grounds for optimism. Russia's economy in 1999 began
to show the first signs of a tentative recovery from the crash of August
1998. That circumstance, combined with Putin's soaring popularity ratings,
should give the new president a substantial window of opportunity to adopt
the radical reforms that Yeltsin was never willing to undertake. This window
may not be open long, but Putin's decisiveness as prime minister and his
astute approach to politics will work to his advantage. Russia may be able to
return to the bold reform program that Yeltsin abandoned in early 1992.
Putin's willingness to back the pro-market party known as the Union of Right
Forces in the recent parliamentary elections gives further reason for hope
about his economic policies. Although it would have been better if the
Yabloko party had gained more of the vote, the Union of Right Forces is the
next-best alternative. Together with the Unity party that Putin sponsored,
the Union of Right Forces may be able to craft a genuinely workable program
that will put Russia on the path of true market reform.
Both economically and politically, then, Yeltsin's departure should be good
for Russia. Even on the question of Chechnya, it is unlikely that Yeltsin's
departure will make things worse. Yeltsin himself vehemently supported both
the current war and the tragic conflict against Chechnya in 1994-1996, in
which tens of thousands died. It is troubling that Putin's popularity in
Russia has risen mainly because of his decisiveness in overseeing the
destruction of Chechnya, but there is no indication that Russian policy
toward Chechnya would be any different if Yeltsin stayed in office.
On balance, Yeltsin's resignation should bode well for everyone who wants to
see liberal democracy and a prosperous market economy in Russia. Those goals
will not be accomplished any time soon, but Yeltsin's departure should make
the future brighter for Russia.
New York Times
January 2, 2000
[for personal use only]
Yeltsin Goes, Uncertainty Remains
By RICHARD PIPES
Richard Pipes, a research Baird research professor at Harvard, is the author
of "Property and Freedom."
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Boris Yeltsin's unexpected resignation was a brilliant
political ploy, and one with worrisome implications for the West.
The move was clever because it enhanced the presidential prospects of Mr.
Yeltsin's chosen successor, Vladimir Putin; it will improve the chances of
Mr. Yeltsin's being remembered as a patriot rather than a leader who put
ambition ahead of the nation's interests; and it allowed Mr. Putin to give
Mr. Yeltsin immunity against corruption charges.
It also went over well internationally. Once they got over the shock,
President Clinton and other Western leaders welcomed the decision as
insurance of a smooth transition of power and the continuation of reforms.
In some respects, optimism is warranted.
In last month's parliamentary elections the two parties sponsored by Mr.
Putin gained a greater share of the vote than did the Communists, promising
the kind of cooperation between the executive and the Duma that heretofore
has eluded the Kremlin. And Mr. Putin quickly pledged close cooperation with
Yet closer scrutiny of how he came to power and of what he tells his domestic
political audience reveals cause for anxiety.
The main pro-Putin faction, the Unity Party, gained nearly one-quarter of the
vote in the parliamentary elections, yet it presented no platform. Its appeal
consisted entirely of support for the Chechen war, which Mr. Putin says is
necessary to save Russia's "honor." He dismissed out of hand foreign protests
of the war, calling it an internal Russian matter. In other words, the
party's program consisted mostly of appeals to chauvinism and
Moreover, in a statement on a government Internet site in December, Mr. Putin
declared that Western-style democracy was not suited to Russia. Russian
society, he explained, "wants a restoration of a guiding and regulatory role
of the state." Russians are "not ready to abandon traditional dependence on
the state and become self-reliant individuals," he noted, and thus the
country needs "a comprehensive system of state regulation of the economy."
These sentiments hardly point to further political and economic
Indeed, in a speech two months ago, Mr. Putin said that to improve the
economy Russia needed to beef up its defense industries -- a bizarre
statement given that the Soviet economy was ruined by runaway military
expenditures. He pledged to increase military spending by 57 percent, "to
respond to new geopolitical realities, both external and internal threats."
Even more worrisome was the paean to Russia's secret services he delivered on
the anniversary of Lenin's creation of the Cheka, the first Soviet secret
police. "Several years ago," he said on this occasion, "we fell prey to an
illusion that we have no enemies. We paid dearly for this. . . . The organs
of state security have always guarded Russia's national interests." This
praise was lavished on the Cheka, the O.G.P.U., the N.K.V.D. and the K.G.B.,
indispensable instruments of Communist terror that deprived millions of
Soviet citizens of their lives and liberties, and kept the rest in constant
Yes, Mr. Putin is certainly an anti-Communist, but Soviet-style Communism no
longer poses a real threat to Russia -- only a fraction of those who vote for
the Communist Party want a return to the past. The danger is authoritarianism
fused with nationalism and imperialism: a government that respects some basic
economic and civil freedoms, because they enjoy popular support, but
represses political expression and exploits anti-Western sentiments to
isolate Russia from the world.
It is possible, of course, that should Mr. Putin win the presidency he will
prove a pragmatic politician and steer a reasonable course. But his political
rhetoric makes clear that we can't take anything for granted.
1 January 2000
Presidents & The Price of Pardon
Russian President Boris Yeltsin did not simply resign. He resigned and was
then pardoned by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a manner reminiscent of
Richard Nixon's resignation -- except that the pardon came a lot faster this
time. And this pardon means a lot more. It not only removes a president from
office but serves as a trial balloon for other members of the elite tainted
by this year's scandals.
Since Putin became prime minister in August, Russian politics has revolved
around scandal. Immediately upon Putin's ascension, the world was swept with
reports of financial irregularities -- of monumental proportions -- involving
Russian banks, businessmen and, most important, the Yeltsin family itself.
The most public of these scandals revolved around the Bank of New York, where
billions were reportedly laundered. At the same time, rumors of a wide range
of financial improprieties involving Yeltin and his family started to surface.
The timing was no accident. As chief of the FSB, the Russian successor to the
KGB, Putin had a front row seat to the financial shennigans. He could see the
scandals unfold because of his job; he also had important previous
connections. In the 1980s, Putin may have been involved in technology
transfers from the West. This involved creating businesses for the purchase -
even theft -- of technology. These businesses and relationships became, after
the collapse of communism, the seed out of which many of Russia's private
enterprises grew. Knowing better than anyone what was going on, Putin used
his dossier on Yeltsin to finesse him out of office. Apart from his
tremendous lack of popularity and his poor health, the fear of investigation
clearly motivated Yeltsin to step aside. The pardon was the key payment that
The pardon now places Putin in a simultaneously powerful - and yet vulnerable
-- position. Putin makes it clear that he has the power to pardon and is
prepared to use it. He also makes it clear that there is a price: Yeltsin had
to give up something very dear, his office. Now, Yelstin is still not out of
the woods. His family has not received pardons. More important, the oligarchs
who fattened themselves through their relationship with Yeltsin and his
regime have not received pardons.
As important, the pardon is a trial balloon for a much wider audience. Putin
has now stated the price of a pardon for a member of the elite tainted by
scandal. One must give up position -- but probably not everything. This is
important. Putin is walking a fine line. On the one hand, he must shake free
the massive capital that has been diverted overseas and hidden in Russia. On
the other hand, he cannot put extremely powerful men in the position of
losing absolutely everything. Prosecutions would trigger a blowback that
Putin himself might not be able to survive.
Now, Putin's real test begins. Getting the oligarchs to give up their vast
wealth, particularly the wealth that is sequestered overseas, is critical to
Russia's future. Will the oligarch's be willing to cut a deal in return for
pardons? Putin is himself in a difficult spot, cleaner than most certainly
involved to some extent in the process that eviscerated Russia's economy.
That is why he is trying to devise a scheme that will save the Russian
economy without triggering a vicious backlash from the oligarch's and the
Russian mafia. The formula: return most of what was stolen, keep enough to
ensure a very comfortable life style, get a pardon.
This was an insider's solution to the problem, engineered by the
quintessential insider, Vladimir Putin. If this doesn't work, the only other
solution is to act without giving the oligarchs room for retreat: massive
expropriations amidst a terror campaign. But Putin is in no position to do
that. He is too compromised by the system.
With Yeltsin's resignation, Putin has painted the outlines of rectification
within the system. He has declared himself to be Kerensky, the revolutionary
who didn't want to go too far. Kerensky failed and Lenin came from nowhere,
the revolutionary who had no limits. The situation in Russia is, in our view,
on the knife's edge. Putin is trying to contain the situation as well as
possible. We are not optimistic.
However, Putin now holds out the carrot. If he shows that he can also wield a
stick, he may just save what little is left of the post-Communist reforms. If
not, Russia will enter a revolutionary situation.
Date: Sat, 01 Jan 2000
From: Gideon Remez <email@example.com>
Subject: Putin's deal
Putin's deal and potential undoing
Commentary forthcoming in Ha'Aretz, January 2, 2000
By Isabella Ginor
(Translated from Hebrew)
Commentators will be busy for days to come analyzing the explanation
Boris Yeltsin gave on Friday for his sudden resignation: "I am leaving,
not because of health reasons, but due to the whole set of problems."
The obvious interpretation of that is a deal between the interests of
the incoming and outgoing regimes: on the one hand, Premier Vladimir
Putin's interest to bring forward the presidential election while he
manages to keep up the astronomic poll rating of 46%. This support stems
from public unawareness of the scope of Russian casualties from Putin's
war in Chechnya, and the official reports minimizing them can hardly be
sustained for long. The opposing interest was that of the "Family", the
clique of Yeltsin's relatives and cronies, who were preventing his
departure until they, in addition to the old and sick president, were
guaranteed sweeping immunity from corruption charges. Yeltsin was
offered a similar deal last summer by Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov,
who then seemed to be the certain winners of the Duma election. But they
were willing to promise only immunity for the president himself, so the
Family saw to it that by election day two weeks ago the Primakov-Luzhkov
ticket, "Fatherland -All Russia" had lost its advantage.
Now, thanks to Putin, immunity will be enjoyed not only by Yeltsin, his
daughters and sons-in-law who all live, officially, at the same Oseniaya
Street address. All the other members of the Family are now protected,
formally or otherwise, from excessive prying: paymasters Boris
Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich gained parliamentary immunity with their
election to Duma seats. Anatoly Chubais has become Putin's presidential
campaign manager. Alexander Voloshin, who resigned as presidential chief
of staff following Yeltsin's resignation, was reappointed in one of
Putin's first decrees as Acting President. Valentin Yumashev will
presumably stay in London to supervise the schooling not only of his own
daughter but probably also that of Boris Yeltsin jr., son of the
ex-president's younger daughter Tatiana Dyachenko. Only Pavel Borodin,
business manager of the presidency's vast assets, has anything to worry
about: in 1996 Putin was his deputy, and thus must know everything about
the Kremlin's contracts with the "Mabetex" construction company, which
this year has been implicated in large bribes to Yeltsin and his family.
If Putin's very selection on August 9 as Prime Minister and presidential
heir apparent stemmed from his involvement in these deals or his
knowledge of other people's roles, then an expose of Putin's own
possible contribution may be one of the few real threats he now faces on
the way to victory in the election -- which makes Borodin an undesirable
So the Family is now betting on Putin, along with the defense
establishment brass, new regional nomenklatura and some of the oligarchs
who are uneasy about close investigation of privatization procedures and
other sources of their wealth. But despite Putin's links to the Family,
his allgiance to it is limited because his identification by the public
as the favorite of Yeltsin -- once an admired leader, now widely
despised -- can only diminish his electoral prospects. Despite his
amazing popularity being built exclusively on the war in Chechnya, Putin
lost no time in visiting the troops there on millennium night -- and, in
addressing them, crediting Yeltsin with the war.
As of his appointment to the Premiership, Putin has been endowed with
all of Russia's human and economic resources. But no money could buy,
even for the former FSB commander, the image of an iron fist enforcing
public order and the rule of law. The opportunity for that was provided,
shortly before previous Premier Sergei Stepashin was replaced by Putin,
by the incursion of Chechen gunmen into Dagestan. Several accounts in
the Russian media attributed that to an agreement between Voloshin and
Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev. After Putin's appointment, the bombing
of three Russian residential buildings provided justification for an
offensive against Chechnya itself. Then too rumours circulated about a
provocation by the regime, especially after some of Putin's former
subordinates at the security service were caught planting explosives in
a fourth building. Publication of proof for such a scandal is another of
the few things that might yet trip Putin up.
In his resignation speech Yeltsin explained the timing with the "magic
number" of year 2000. But the real magic number is March 26, the new
date of the Presidential election instead of June 4. Bringing the
election forward not only shields Putin from possible failure in
Chechnya; it also cuts the election campaign to 2-1/2 months and hobbles
the organization efforts of his rivals. Only one of them has already
established a campaign HQ: General Alexander Lebed, Governor of
Krasnoyarsk, who fielded no list for the Dume election and is -- today
-- considered a marginal contender. But Lebed is still Putin's chief
competitor for the support of defense personnel outside the high
Yeltsin's apparent ouster after a session with the heads of "power
ministries" was reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev's forced retirement;
Putin's rise reminds one of Yuri Andropov, another former KGB commander
who took over after the years of Leonid Brezhnev's decay. In retrospect,
the seemingly dour Andropov was portrayed as a closet liberal who paved
the way for perestroika, which ended with the dissolution of the Soviet
Union. Putin, while presenting hunting knives to soldiers for bravery
in Chechnya, declared the purpose of the war there was "not restoring
the honor of the state, but stopping the dissolution of Russia."
2 January 2000
How the West Killed Yeltsin
President Boris Yeltsin's resignation from office can be viewed as the
logical result of a nearly year-long decline in stature and power, ending in
a bid for a swift and safe exit from the Kremlin's intrigue and scandals. But
ultimately, Yeltsin's demise is in large measure due to the actions of the
West. Wittingly or not, the West played a large role in destroying its last
true friend in Moscow.
Yeltsin had banked everything on his relationship with the West in general --
and the United States in particular. In a sense, he owed his office to the
United States, whose intelligence services had warned him of the impending
coup attempt of 1992, allowing him to save himself and Russian democracy.
Yeltsin banked on Western investment pouring in to integrate Russia with the
West and initiate an unprecedented era of prosperity. Toward this end,
Yeltsin was prepared to subordinate Russian geopolitical and strategic
interest to the West, so long as Western money continued to flow.
But by late 1998, the flow of money dried up. The financial crisis of August,
1998 made the drought of investment permanent. Yeltsin, nevertheless, was
hopeful of restarting the pump and worked assiduously to placate the West.
But his efforts were rebuffed. The U.S. and British bombing of Iraq in
December 1998 - despite Moscow's vigorous opposition -- was the first sharp
slap in the face. At home, Yeltsin was seen as acquiescing to foreign policy
humiliations, without getting the cash that might justify it.
What finally destroyed Yeltsin, though, was Kosovo. It was not only the
decision to bomb Kosovo in opposition to Russian wishes that undermined
Yeltsin. The treatment of Russian diplomacy was the most humiliating and
deadly part of the equation. The Russians had been called in to negotiate
between NATO and the Serbs. They did and forged the G-8 agreeement. Part of
that agreement stipulated that the occupation of Kosovo would take place with
heavy Russian participation and joint control. But instead of being treated
as vital partners, the Russians were treated as marginal irritants. The West
rejected a significant role for Russia in post-war Kosovo.
Yeltsin was exposed. At American urging, he had dumped the anti-American
prime minister Yevgeny Primakov in the middle of the war. Yeltsin's reward
was the complete humiliation of Russia in the implementation of the accords.
With that, President Clinton effectively destroyed Boris Yeltsin.
The selection of Vladimir Putin as the new prime minister in August was not
Yeltsin's choice. Putin was forced on the president by the military and
intelligence sectors who wanted one of their own in control. Putin
immediately began to reclaim some of Russia's strategic standing. Since
serious financial support was not coming from the West, he had little to
lose. What he had to gain was halting the disintegration of the Russian
Federation and beginning the resurrection of a psychology of Russia as a
great power, if a poor one.
Putin's policy has been manifested most clearly in Chechnya, where the prime
minister drew the line on disintegration. Putin's brutal campaign against the
rebels has been enormously popular among Russians. Indeed, it has been one of
the few issues around which Russians could rally in recent years. But the
issue that rallied Russia was not simply Chechnya; rather, it was the idea
that Russia was reclaiming its place as a great power, prepared to challenge
the West -- and the United States.
Putin rose on his foreign policy even as Yeltsin fell to his lowest ebb, seen
as a weakling and a discredited tool of the West. Putin has now sown the wind
of Russian revanchism. It is not clear that he will be able to personally
ride the whirlwind.
But this much is clear. The fall of Yeltsin represents the end of the period
of automatic Russian subordination to Western strategic initiatives. It will
usher in an era of greater confrontation with the West. Yeltsin was
Washington's last real friend in Moscow. With Kosovo, President Clinton
killed him politically. It was the last humiliating straw in the West's
relationship with Russia.
From: "Frank Durgin" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 1 Jan 2000
Subject: A query
I wonder if anyone on the lis can tell me where the estimateed
$150 billion in capital that has flowed out of Russia since 1991
went. It has been argued on another list that it went into US stocks
and has played a sigificant role in fueling the Wall Street