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Johnson's Russia List
12 January 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Russians poorer in 1999, official figures show.
2. Reuters: Martin Nesirky, Putin wants powerful Russia.
3. Novaya Gazeta: WILL PUTIN OR WILL HIS RATING WIN AT THE PRESIDENTIAL
ELECTIONS Interview with Lilya SHEVTSOVA, professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and leading researcher at the Carnegie
4. Jamestown Foundation Monitor: PUTIN SAYS MOSCOW APARTMENT BOMBERS WERE
TRAINED IN URUS-MARTAN.
5. Reuters: Peter Graff, Russia has no answer to old Chechen trick.
6. THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN UKRAINE: MIRROR OF A SOCIETY IN TRANSITION by Antonina Kolodii
(Lviv) with the assistance of Stephen D. Shenfield.]
Russians poorer in 1999, official figures show
MOSCOW, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Russians became at least 15 percent poorer last
year despite the country's much publicised economic stabilisation after being
hit by a 1998 financial crisis, official data obtained by Reuters showed on
But some analysts suggested that the registered decline in incomes could be a
result of growing tax evasion rather than of a further fall in living
According to the annual review of key social and economic indicators issued
by the Economy Ministry, the number of Russians living below the poverty line
grew by 10 million last year to 50 million in a total population of about 147
The government says that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet
Union it has managed to stick to austere targets set in the 1999 budget and
that it expected growth of about 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)
for that year.
Analysts suggested the contrast between figures showing economic
stabilisation on the one hand and decline in living standards on the other
showed that many Russians do not report their incomes.
Most Russians receive wages and carry out money transactions in cash, which
makes it difficult for fiscal authorities to trace tax dodgers.
``There are two conclusions one can draw from the official figures,''
respected business daily Vedomosti said.
``One is that we live in an impoverished country, and the second is that in
this impoverished country there is a considerable amount of income which is
not reflected in official statistics.''
All post-Soviet Russian governments have waged largely fruitless wars against
tax dodgers, both individuals and companies.
But the current government of Vladimir Putin has said at least part of its
economic achievements last year should be credited to improved tax
Putin wants powerful Russia
By Martin Nesirky
MOSCOW, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Acting President Vladimir Putin flexed his muscles
on Tuesday, saying Russia needed to rebuild its military might and patch up
its rickety economy to help the world's largest country regain superpower
The ex-KGB spy became acting head of state on New Year's Eve when Boris
Yeltsin resigned. He also remains premier, at least until the March 26
presidential election he is favourite to win, despite setbacks in the
Chechnya military campaign he launched.
Signs emerged on Tuesday Putin's run at the presidency could be simplified.
Mikhail Lapshin, head of the left-wing Agrarian Party and a friend of Yevgeny
Primakov, told Interfax news agency the ex-premier may soon withdraw as a
"It's clear that soon his position will be made public, but we are proceeding
from the stance that the surname Primakov will most likely not be on the
list," Lapshin was quoted as saying.
On Monday, Putin rolled out a safety net by putting Finance Minister Mikhail
Kasyanov in effective charge of the government while he is an acting
president running a country and campaign.
On Tuesday, he said he favoured seeing a woman made speaker of the State Duma
lower house of parliament. There are just 31 women in the new 450-seat Duma
that convenes on January 18.
Turning to a favourite theme, the 47-year-old judo expert said Russia -- in a
geopolitical and financial bind since the collapse of communism and a 1998
economic crisis -- deserved to restore its pride but needed the funds to do
"Our country Russia was a great, powerful, strong state," Putin said in
televised remarks after meeting his new minister for federal and national
affairs, Alexander Blokhin.
"It is clear this is not possible if we do not have strong armed forces,
powerful armed forces," Putin said. "We will not achieve this if we do not
solve a range of problems in the economic and social spheres."
There are certainly difficulties. The rouble hit a new low. The central
bank's rate for Wednesday was set at 28.44 to the dollar compared with 27.73.
This was coupled with statistics showing Russians became some 15 percent
poorer last year, although this could reflect tax evasion, itself unwelcome
ATTENTION SWITCHES TO DUMA SPEAKER POST
It was not clear whether Blokhin's hitherto backwater ministry was going to
be given more mainstream responsibilities. But such a move would fit with
Putin's stated aims of fixing the economy, keeping Russia intact and boosting
the role of the intelligence and security forces he long served.
"The problems your ministry deals with concern every family, every community,
every town and every state body," he told Blokhin. The Russian Federation is
the world's largest country, a multi-ethnic state with 89 regions across 11
time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
But since the Soviet Union imploded and the economy crumbled, Moscow's
once-mighty armed forces have been cut in size and are now demoralised and
underfunded, although they still have the world's second largest nuclear
Additionally, the military has recently hit difficulties in its campaign
against Islamic militants in the breakaway region of Chechnya and Moscow has
said it made mistakes in the nearly four-month campaign to restore control
over the region.
Putin, whose tough stance against Chechnya has helped make him Russia's most
popular politician, knows mounting reversals in the relatively successful
campaign could eat into his lead.
Primakov, who said in December he would run, had been seen as a leading rival
for Putin. If he pulls out that would leave Communist Party leader Gennady
Zyuganov and liberal Yabloko party chief Grigory Yavlinsky as the main
challengers, with a handful of other outsiders.
In the convoluted world of Russian politics, attention has temporarily
switched to who is going be voted speaker of the Duma when it meets for the
first time since the December 19 election in which Putin backers did notably
"I think there are too few women in the leadership of the country, and if we
examine the question from this perspective, as I understand it, one of the
candidates from the Unity bloc is a woman," he said, referring to Lyubov
Sliska, a 46-year-old former regional parliamentarian from the Volga city of
Sliska is in fact the only declared candidate from the pro-Putin Unity bloc
for the post, an influential position which usually goes to the grouping with
the largest number of seats.
Gennady Seleznyov, the outgoing speaker who just lost an election for the
post of Moscow region governor, will be the Communists' candidate. They have
the largest number of seats.
Other candidates include former premier Sergei Stepashin for Yabloko and
flamboyant ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Primakov could be a
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
WILL PUTIN OR WILL HIS RATING WIN AT THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS?
Lilya SHEVTSOVA, D. Sc., professor of the Moscow State
Institute of International Relations and leading
researcher at the Carnegie Centre, is interviewed by
Novaya Gazeta's Yelena AFANASYEVA.
Question: What has surprised you about the results of the
State Duma elections?
Answer: There have been several surprises. I did not think
that Yabloko would have garnered less than seven percent of the
national vote. I thought that Unity would have taken away part of
Vladimir Zhirinovsky's electorate. However, some of his
traditional supporters voted for the Union of Right Forces (SPS).
I did not think that the inflation of Unity would have led to
such results. I probably underestimated the turn towards the
unity of both our society and the overwhelming part of its ruling
class on the basis of the striving for "the dictatorship of
order", which occurred in such a short span of time. This
explains support for Vladimir Putin and his "bloc of power." The
change of political orientations has been astonishingly fast. In
the beginning of the year society approved of one leader and at
the end of the year - a leader with an absolutely different
political style and actually different form of rule.
Question: Do you mean support for Yevgeny Primakov in the
beginning of 1999 and for Putin in the end of the same year?
Answer: Yes, of course. Even after his dismissal Primakov's
rating was 68 percent - a big part of society supported the
moderate leader of a consensus type.
Yes, liberals and democrats criticize and continue to
criticize Primakov. However, he has made a breakthrough from a
quasi-monarchical system of power by dismembering it and turning
the premier into an independent entity by introducing for the
first time the practice of reliance on parliament. As a matter of
fact, Primakov put an end to super-Presidency. He also made
communists go against their nature and approve of the most
liberal budget in the history, which was even more liberal than
in Anatoly Chubais's times. However, as a result of the known
August-September events society turned to a different formula of
power - the "strong arm."
Question: Russians began longing for what they had used to
during Boris Yeltsin's Presidency?
Answer: Yeltsin has not been a cruel leader. He was the
elected monarch who stood above all and retained his "omnipotent
power" by sharing some part of it on a piecemeal basis with some
or others. Putin became the "heir apparent" in the very first
three months of his premiership - Yeltsin allowed the Premier to
do the clean-up work for him.
Putin was made responsible for Chechnya. But, in fact
Chechnya was the means thanks to which he was to become the
embodiment, the symbol of "the dictatorship of order".
Putin became the answer to the fear which suddenly gripped
ordinary Russians and the society's elite alike. Ordinary
Russians were frightened by bomb explosions and the loss of the
feeling of security. International financial and other scandals,
which made the West turn away from Russia, caused confusion among
those at the top who lost all confidence that they could at any
moment fly to a safe place somewhere at Malibu.
By the way, I, just as many others, am very disturbed by the
cause-and-effect connection of the scandals-Dagestan-explosions-
Chechnya link, especially as all this happened in the run-up to
the parliamentary elections.
But it would be a mistake to presume that Putin owes his
rating only to Chechnya. Obscurity became his trump card because
it allowed many to think in the beginning that he at least was
far from the Kremlin.
Question: Now that society has so radically changed its
sentiment twice in one year, does the present state of affairs
mean that "Putin is our president"?
Answer: Quite a few traps are waiting for Putin, and
Chechnya may not be the most dangerous of them. Anyway, there are
ways to create the semblance of victory and keep Putin's
popularity rating at the level of 20% even in the event of a
negative course of developments in Chechnya, thereby ensuring his
participation in the runoff with Gennady Zyuganov.
Putin no more an enigma. He has to specify his position. His
attempt to put accents in the economic sphere has already
displeased the left and the right alike.
Question: Last July the rejection of the regime by the
public seemed to be absolute, and we all ridiculed the Kremlin's
plans, wondering if its spin doctors regarded us as idiots,
thinking that with the help of huge money they would once again
make us vote for anyone. Half a year later, we did exactly that.
Does it mean that they are right?
Answer: There has not been any "brilliant" campaign by the
Kremlin's spin doctors. The matter is that the bomb explosions
resulted in a high demand for a "strong arm," and it was just a
matter of technique to satisfy it. The public relations campaign
which followed surprisingly lacked finesse and a good intrigue.
It was incredibly unsophisticated and clumsy. It was built on
four pillars: to discredit real presidential candidates -
Primakov and Luzhkov, to preserve a suitable rival - the KPRF, to
create the official successor - Putin and his party in the form
of a new "bloc of power" Unity and the Union of Right Forces). We
must admit that the main characters in that spectacle were chosen
successfully - Putin and Sergei Shoigu with their character and
political "texture." Sergei Stepashin does not have such a
Question: Do you think that Stepashin was out because of the
lack of the "texture" and not because of guaranteed loyalty?
Answer: I think Stepashin was loyal to the Kremlin, He
proved it more than once. However, psychologically he was not
suitable for the role of the macho man. He is known in the
political circles as a kind man who is "everyone's friend." Even
his appearance disagrees with the role of the "tough arm." Putin
with his cool and ascetic face looked more suitable for the role.
The "selectionists" had to have guarantees that he would not
abandon them later. They should have the possibility to influence
him, to know his weak spots, his past, etc.
A natural question arises: is it possible to step into the
same waters three times, i.e., is it possible, after the
manipulations with the 1996 presidential elections and the 1999
Duma elections, to "organise" the 2000 presidential elections in
the same way? The answer to this question will depend on the
quality of the public demand, rather than the mastery of spin
Question: Does the present support for the pro-Kremlin blocs
show that the rejection by the public of the ruling regime and
all that stands behind it was not as final and as absolute as it
seemed last summer?
Answer: The public is irritated and disenchanted. It is sick
and tired of the senile regime. At the same time, the majority of
Russians do not have the desire to topple it. There is no
revolutionary situation in the country. There is the desire not
to crush the "furniture" but to change it. The latest voting
re-affirmed that the masses do not wish new shocks.
The voting also showed a very interesting thing: protest
sentiments were reflected not only in voting against all and
support for the opposition - the left forces, Fatherland-All
Russia (OVR) and Yabloko. The paradox is that the Kremlin managed
to turn public discontent into a hope for renewal. Putin, Shoigu,
Chubais - all of them together and each separately played on the
contrast to feeble Yeltsin by offering society young, aggressive
and dynamic leaders as the alternative. In fact, they offered
society to close the chapter called "Yeltsin" peacefully and
without much ado. The future will show the degree to which this
manoeuvre was a success. This will become clear as soon as
Chechnya, which made any form of protest against the regime
non-patriotic, is moved to the background.
Question: What have been the miscalculations of those who
are publicly called the failures of the Duma elections - the OVR
Answer: The OVR can be seen as a failure only if the initial
expectations are regarded as the criterion of success. The
problem is that they are used to playing in greenhouse conditions
and were not ready for the Kremlin's tough pressure and the
appearance of Unity. The teams headed by Luzhkov and Primakov -
Fatherland and All Russia - poorly coordinated their actions,
which resulted in internal differences. Anyway, the leaders of
the alternative party of power failed to overcome the impression
that they were just a displeased echelon of the same party and
the main slogan of this echelon is "Get down and let us drive!"
Yeltsin's trap into which Primakov fell also had a role to
play. By his image of a feeble ruler Yeltsin created the fear in
society that Primakov was no better.
The most important thing is that the regime's structural
trap also proved to be a success. It turned out that the power
does not withstand a dual centre. It rejects any attempts to form
a strong oppositional vector. The Kremlin begins pressing along
the entire front. Under these circumstances the political class
and the passively submissible part of society takes the side of
the official regime.
But the very fact that the OVR, nonetheless, survived in
such a situation can be regarded as an achievement.
Question: Don't you think that ex-Premier Stepashin has
played the same role for Yabloko as Yastrzhembsky or Karaganov
has played for the OVR?
Answer: Opinion polls show that Stepashin has neither
reduced nor increased the number of votes for Yabloko. Almost all
of his electorate turned to Unity and the right forces.
Nonetheless, Stepashin has made a very important thing for
Yabloko. He proved that Yabloko is open to alliances and that it
is not an isolationist party.
Yabloko's election results are the consequence of the
typical weakness of a party of intellectuals - the inability to
organise, in addition to vacillations and even the lack of
clarity with regard to its stand on Chechnya, its attitude to
Putin and Luzhkov and the possibility of political alliances.
It was too late when these positions were clarified and this
disoriented the electorate.
There was one problem which Yabloko was simply unable to
cope with. It is the wave of universal consolidation on the basis
of Chechnya, or, to be more precisely, the power solution of the
Chechnya problem. The fact that Yabloko did not support this
consolidation cost it the loss of part of its traditional
electorate. Till that time few even suspected that part of
Yabloko's supporters are advocates of a strong Russian state and
not liberals. As a matter of fact, Yabloko suffered because it
tried to preserve liberalism. Today, it is the only democratic,
liberal opposition on our political scene. Hence its special
responsibility. Whatever this party is doing today is sooner for
the future, not for the present. But in all victories and defeats
the price is of incredible importance.
Question: The present results have not been paid for but
taken on credit, haven't they?
Answer: This is obvious. Take Putin, for one. To preserve
his patchwork "bloc of power" till the presidential election he
has to create his own system of patrons and clients. Will he be
able to avoid falling into the stifling embrace of his new
Of even greater interest is the price communists will have
to pay for the favoured treatment regime which they have
received. The role of the Kremlin's "sparring partner" has been
prepared for them in the future presidential elections which the
communist party is to lose. So, the price of the communists'
present - albeit, partial - victory in the Duma elections is to
be their defeat in the presidential elections. Will the communist
party reconcile itself to the role of a sacrificial lamb or will
it take Zyuganov out of the race and support Primakov, thereby
becoming part of the anti-Kremlin front?
The right forces, as represented by the SPS, are already
paying their price. The core of the matter is more than their
humiliating breakthrough into the new Duma in the wake of Putin's
popularity the tail of which they managed to catch. In the final
count, it is politics in which all kinds of temporary alliances
are possible. The thing is that in the name of victory the right
have betrayed liberalism and its fundamental idea of support for
the order in the name of the interests of the individual.
Jamestown Foundation Monitor
11 January 2000
PUTIN SAYS MOSCOW APARTMENT BOMBERS WERE TRAINED
IN URUS-MARTAN. Acting President Vladimir Putin said yesterday
that he is certain that those responsible for blowing up apartment buildings
in Moscow, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk last fall had received instruction
at a terrorist training camp in Urus-Martan, Chechnya. Putin's
comments were clearly a reaction to a report last week in the
British newspaper The Independent that it had obtained a video,
taken in December by a Turkish journalist, in which a Russian
military intelligence officer who was captured by the Chechen
rebels "confesses" that the bombings in Volgodonsk and Moscow were
carried out by Russia's Federal Security Service in cooperation
with the GRU, Russia's military intelligence service. Some 300
people died in four apartment buildings in Russia this past fall,
and the attacks, coming on the heels of an invasion by Chechnya-
based Islamic militants on neighboring Dagestan, sparked the
latest Chechen war. On January 6, Nikolai Koshman, the Russian
government's representative in Chechnya, said that a training base
for "saboteurs" had recently been found in Urus-Martan, along with
explosives identical to those used in the apartment building
explosions. Koshman added that Chechen field commander Khattab had
"admitted that the explosions in Moscow were his work." It is not
clear when Khattab is alleged to have made this admission. Koshman
also said it was "impossible" that the Russian authorities were
behind the blast (Russian agencies, January 6).
Some observers, including State Duma Deputy Konstantin Borovoi,
have suggested that Russia's special services engineered the
apartment bombing blasts as a pretext for the war and, presumably,
to boost the prospects of a Putin presidency. Last fall, Borovoi
said that a GRU officer had warned him that such terrorist attacks
would take place. Borovoi, who maintained close contacts with
Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya's first president, prior to Dudaev's death
in 1996, also said that Russia's special services may have used
Chechens to carry out the bombings. The Chechen rebels themselves
have charged that the Russian authorities were behind the
explosions, and the newspaper Moskovsky komsomolets suggested last
year that the tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky had
given money to Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev shortly
before he led the raid against Dagestan. In a recent interview
with a London-based Arabic newspaper, Chechen Mufti Akhmed-Khadzhi
Kadyrov, who is seen as supporting the Russian side in the current
war, said that he had heard Basaev admit that Berezovsky had given
him US$1 million. Kadyrov accused the Russian authorities of
looking the other way while money and mercenaries, largely from
the Middle East, entered Chechnya. Kadyrov also charged that
former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin had sent arms to Islamic
militants in Dagestan during his tenure as head of government (Al-
Sharq al-Awsat, January 7).
The Russian government's charges that the Chechen fighters were
receiving aid from international terrorist groups were bolstered
over the weekend by a Western newspaper report that Chechen
guerrillas had been trained in Chechnya by instructors from the
militant Shia Islamic group Hezbollah (Sunday Telegraph, January
Meanwhile Putin met yesterday with Vladimir Ustinov, Russia's
acting prosecutor general, to discuss his investigation into
alleged genocide against ethnic Russians living in Chechnya
(Russian agencies, January 10).
ANALYSIS-Russia has no answer to old Chechen trick
By Peter Graff
MOSCOW, Jan 11 (Reuters) - When Chechen guerrillas, on the retreat for three
and a half months, returned to their favourite tactic of lightning raids on
Russian-held towns, the only people who seemed surprised were Moscow's
Simultaneous rebel attacks on several key Russian-held towns in Chechnya's
lowlands forced Moscow to acknowledge the worst losses of its campaign so
Details of the latest fighting are still sketchy, but the picture emerging
has already wrecked a myth that Russian forces were headed for certain
"The Russian army has suffered a serious setback. It is not yet a defeat, but
a serious wake-up call," said Dmitry Trenin, defence analyst at the Moscow
office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"Victory was supposed to have been inescapable, but there is no certainty of
victory at all. The Russian army can control territory, but only in very
dangerous, hostile surroundings."
RAIDS WERE PREDICTED
Military experts have been predicting for weeks that the Chechens would
attempt such raids, as they did in 1994-96.
Ariel Cohen, a research analyst and Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation
in Washington, said the Russian army, beaten in the last war, should have
known what was coming.
"It's deja vu all over again," he said. "They stepped on the same rake again
Back in August, 1995, Russia occupied nearly all of Chechnya. Peace talks
were under way in the capital Grozny, patrols roamed the streets of nearly
every town and village and roadblocks loomed over every highway.
But none of those measures could stop about 60 fighters from seizing a
building in Argun, a suburb across the river to the east of Grozny, in the
early hours of a Monday morning.
Russian forces surrounded and pulverised the town. Generals later boasted
that they had killed between 60 and 80 fighters.
But in the morning, as they swooped through the wreckage, the troops found
that the rebels had vanished into the hills.
Over the next year, Chechen fighters would repeat the trick in Gudermes, in
Pervomaiskoye -- a village across the border in Dagestan province -- and
twice in Grozny itself.
The Russian army never found a way to deal with these attacks, and when
rebels seized Grozny a second time in August, 1996, Russia finally gave up
and withdrew its troops in defeat.
After the latest setback Russia's press, which has vigorously supported the
war, has already begun calling for a new course.
So far, Acting President Vladimir Putin has kept his poker face, saying there
have been no changes in the situation on the ground. He still faces little
challenge in an election in March.
But a war that had been the main source of his enormous popularity could yet
become his greatest liability.
For the first time, Putin's supremely self-confident generals have been
"We had a serious discussion today and the appropriate conclusions have been
drawn," Viktor Kazantsev, the top commander in Chechnya, said on Monday.
He said no such mistakes would be made in the future. But others were less
"If the political leadership does not make serious strategic changes in its
North Caucasus policy, then we can expect more serious casualties and
defeats," said the newspaper Izvestia.
"Everyone knew of the possibility of a counterattack, especially in Argun and
Gudermes, and nothing was done...The period of triumphant victories and
beautiful words has ended."
The raids were a sudden reminder of the lesson Russia should have learned in
the 1994-96 war in the rebel region -- occupying all of Chechnya's territory
is not enough to win control of it.
Chechen guerrillas cannot hold territory forever in the face of Russia's war
machine. But as soon as Russian forces "liberate" a town, it becomes a target
for Chechen raids.
ATTACKS DEEPER INTO RUSSIA MAY COME NEXT
If Chechen guerrillas can still organise surprise attacks on Chechen towns
under Russian control, it may only be a matter of time before they attack
other parts of Russia, Cohen said.
"The next thing I'm waiting for is in-depth raids, lightning raids, showing a
very spectacular flair for public impact."
Such an attack would provide a more serious test for Putin than any he has
yet faced so far. Even if he is all but certain to win the March presidential
election, a catastrophe at the outset or a prolonged armed conflict could
haunt his whole term.
"Russian public opinion and the popularity of Russian politicians is a very
fickle thing. It is not something that can be taken for granted, even by such
a political superstar as Putin," Cohen said.
"The main question is: what would be the cost in blood of Russian soldiers to
occupy and hold Chechnya? Is it a cost that Putin will be willing to pay,
especially at the start of his glorious presidency?"
Date: Tue, 04 Jan 2000
From: Stephen Shenfield <Stephen_Shenfield@Brown.edu> >)
Subject: Ukraine's political future
Here is an analysis of the significance of the recent Ukrainian presidential
election and Ukraine's political prospects. It is based on a text written
during a visit to Canada by my colleague Antonina Kolodii, a political
scientist at Lviv Polytechnical University, Ukraine: e-mail
<firstname.lastname@example.org>. I edited the text for style. Perhaps it will give
JRL readers a change from Russia's presidential politics.
THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN UKRAINE: MIRROR OF A SOCIETY IN TRANSITION
Antonina Kolodii (Lviv) with the assistance of Stephen D. Shenfield
Ukraine has remained politically stable in spite of continuous
economic decline and widespread impoverishment. The various branches
of the political elite have been prepared to compromise and halt political
clashes before they reached crisis point.
President Leonid Kuchma has played a major role in preserving
stability. He has shown himself to be if not a convinced democrat, then at
least a moderate, sober-minded, and flexible politician. His main
achievements as an architect of compromise have been the Constitutional
Agreement of 1995 and the adoption of the new constitution in 1996.
It was also in 1996 that the national currency (gryvna) was introduced.
The mid-1990s saw the rise of economic 'clans' and 'oligarchs'
in Ukraine, who have undermined the real power and influence of the new
political parties. The victory that the clans won over the parties in this
invisible struggle was reflected in the results of the 1998 and 1999
What we see on the surface in 1999 is that Kuchma won the
'great battle' against the 'red menace' -- a menace that he and his team had
created themselves, both intentionally (through the mass media) and
unintentionally (by aggravating the economic situation and impoverishing
the people). This victory was not unexpected, especially after the failure
of the four left-center candidates to unite behind a single candidate who
might have mounted an effective challenge to both Kuchma and the
All the same, many people, especially abroad, wonder how it
can be that a majority of Ukrainians have again supported Kuchma --
the man whose promises to launch vigorous reforms and combat organized
crime have been exposed as mere words. By voting for him, Ukrainians
have doomed themselves to another five years of leadership that 'The
Times' has described as 'the worst in Europe.'
Why did Kuchma win? What does his victory mean for Ukraine?
To what extent does it confirm or contradict commonly accepted ideas about
the socio-political situation in Ukraine, such as regional differences and
authoritarian tendencies? What problems did it reveal and how can they be
Sixteen candidates stood for president of Ukraine this year.
It is convenient to divide them into four groups:
First of all, the three frontrunners:
-- Leonid Kuchma, the incumbent president of Ukraine.
-- Petro Symonenko, leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
-- Natalia Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.
Secondly, the left-center politicians known as the 'Kaniv four':
-- Olexander Tkachenko, the current chairman of the parliament.
-- Olexander Moroz, the former chairman of the parliament and a leader
of the Socialist Party of Ukraine.
-- Yevhen Marchuk, the first head of the Security Service of Ukraine,
a former prime minister of Ukraine, and a parliamentary deputy elected
from the Socialist Democratic Party (United).
-- Volodymyr Oliynyk, a little-known local official from the central
agrarian Cherkasy Province, of uncertain ideological orientation.
Two more candidates came from Rukh, the right-centrist
'national democratic' movement that played an important role in winning
-- Henadiy Udovenko, a former minister of foreign affairs who headed
the more conservative part of Rukh, concerned mainly with statehood
and cultural concerns.
-- Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the younger and more pragmatic part of Rukh.
Finally, there were seven minor figures standing, none of whom won
more than 0.5% of the votes.
The candidates' assets
Kuchma was supported by over two dozen political parties
and civic organizations. Some of these represented wealthy new oligarchs
or powerful local officials, while others backed Kuchma because they
knew they had no political future without governmental support. Kuchma
had the support of part of the former 'party of power,' the People's
Democratic Party, which split on the eve of the election, and of the
Socialist Democratic Party (United), headed by Victor Medvedchuk,
deputy chairman of the parliament and one of the richest people in Ukraine.
Symonenko could hope to retain the support of the 25% of the
electorate, including a majority of pensioners and the unemployed, who
had voted for the Communist Party in the 1998 parliamentary election.
Vitrenko had attracted much attention as a demagogue. In some
unreliable polls she came second or even first in popularity.
The 'Kaniv Four' had agreed to cooperate and choose one of
their number as a common candidate. Such a candidate would have posed
a real challenge to Kuchma, who according to the polls could have been
defeated only by a centrist politician. But the plan failed, because the
'Kaniv four' were too ambitious to stand down in one another's favor and
also had different ideological orientations: Tkachenko resembles Belorussian
President Lukashenka; Moroz calls himself a left centrist, but has never
refused to stand under a red flag alongside Symonenko; and Marchuk,
while ostensibly a social democrat, is in fact an establishment politician
like Kuchma. (After his defeat in the first round, he accepted Kuchma's
offer of the position of Secretary of the Defense Council.)
The election results
The results of the first round of the election on October 31 were
Candidate Votes "FOR" % of votes "FOR"
Kuchma 9,598,672 36.5
Symonenko 5,849,077 22.2
Moroz 2,969,896 11.3
Vitrenko 2,886,972 11.0
Marchuk 2,138,356 8.1
Kostenko 570,623 2.2
Udovenko 319,778 1.2
Minor figures 288,396 1.5
Against all candidates 477,019 1.8
Why Kuchma and Symonenko?
Thus Kuchma came first, with the Communist Party candidate
Symonenko his leading rival. Why did the electors choose these two
The first and simplest explanation, of course, may be that Ukrainians
are conservative and submissive people. They just do not evaluate the
situation critically and do not want reforms at all. But this assertion is
rather superficial and does not correspond to the findings of sociological
surveys. These show that during the first term of Kuchma's presidency
people were very critical of him. The proportion of respondents who
thought that 'things are going in the right direction in this country' was
13% in December 1994, 14% in December 1996, and a mere 6% in
December 1998 (SOCIS-GALLUP). And when asked on the eve of the
electoral campaign 'Who in your view is able to lead the country out of
the crisis?', only 6% named Kuchma.
True, the public trusted the other branches of state power even less.
If the level of trust in the president fell from 33% to 17% between 1995
and 1997, that in the government fell in the same period from 15% to 9%,
and that in the parliament from 9% to 7%. Trust in public institutions in
Ukraine (as in other post-communist countries) is very low. About 35%
of the public do not approve of the multiparty system, and do not believe
that any existing party or politician is able to lead the country out of the
crisis or govern it effectively.
It is striking that in 1997 there were 45% who agreed, and only 16%
who disagreed, with the statement that 'a few powerful rulers may do
more for the country than all laws and discussions.' Some analysts saw
these figures as a sign of the authoritarian inclinations of the Ukrainian
people. But comparing this survey with others (including my own survey
in Lviv and Kharkiv), I came to the conclusion that people only seek a
strong and charismatic figure able to lead the country out of the pit into
which it has fallen. They want 'delegative democracy' rather than an
authoritarian regime. The main characteristic of this underdeveloped kind
of democracy is that people want to transfer responsibility for the successes
and failures of government in the transitional period from themselves to the
president, who is expected to govern as he sees fit.
As for the Constitution with its hybrid parliamentary-presidential form
of government, multiparty system, and other checks and balances, it was
devised by a political elite over the heads of the people, who were just
trying to survive. Of all the new political institutions, only the presidency
is really understood and valued highly by ordinary people. When asked in
1997 what powers the president should have, 60% of respondents chose
the answer: 'The president should be the head of the government, fully
responsible for domestic and foreign policy.' Only 7% chose an answer
corresponding to the existing mixed form of government; 7% thought it
sufficient for the president to act as head of state and be the 'symbol' of
the nation; and 5% said there was no need for a president. This helps
explain why so many people turned out for the presidential election and
voted for Kuchma, in spite of their disappointment with the results of his
There were, of course, other reasons for Kuchma's success. As
international observers confirmed, the mass media were not allowed to
provide non-partisan and objective coverage of electoral campaign. Kuchma
shamelessly promoted himself on state television, while agitation against
him was discouraged by the authorities at all levels. Local officials were
mobilized in support of Kuchma's campaign. Many other procedural
violations were noted by OSCE observers.
Media bias worked especially to the detriment of those candidates who
were less well known to the public. It did less harm to Symonenko, the
communist candidate, who was able to rely on his party's extensive
network of propaganda outlets and personal contacts. The main hope of
the communists, of course, was that people would vote for their party
because they were tired of living in poverty. But almost all experts agreed
that Symonenko had no chance of winning against Kuchma.
Permanent economic crisis naturally strengthens left-wing critics of
the 'anti-people's regime.' Voters' preferences have moved leftward
during the last five years. It is no coincidence that all three of the
candidates who came next after Kuchma in the first round were
representatives of leftist parties. So there is a tendency for the 'red
electorate' to expand, but it has its limits. But in general, as one reader
of the Ukrainian weekly 'The Day' concluded, 'the commonsense of the
majority of electors overweighed their desire to protest, and of the two
evils offered them the electors chose the lesser.' Kuchma was also right
when he remarked after his victory that in those regions where Symonenko
gained a majority people voted against their poor life, not for the
It came as a surprise to many observers that the leftist parties did
in central-western Vinnitsa Province than in the industrial east (with the
exception of Luhansk Province). In Ukraine as in Russia, the main territorial
stronghold of the communists is now not in the industrial areas, but in some
of the less economically developed, predominantly agricultural regions.
Parties, clans, and oligarchs
Another common explanation of the election results focuses on the
inadequacies of the Ukrainian political elite: the weakness of the parties,
especially on the right side of the political spectrum; the shortage of
leaders free of communist-bureaucratic stereotypes in their thinking and
behavior; and the domination of real politics by the 'oligarchs' (in the
that it is they who are accumulating real as distinct from formal power).
The present state of the multiparty system is indeed dull. In 1996-98
it was hoped that the mixed (half proportional representation) electoral
system would strengthen the party system and structure the parliament
politically. Those hopes have been dashed. There are 75 parties in Ukraine
now, but they have little impact on real politics. There is no explicit
party or bloc, and no explicit opposition either. The eight party fractions
and the non-party deputy groups are continually being reorganized. In
1998, the left parties managed to make a temporary coalition with the
centrist Party 'Hromada' and elected a left-wing chair and deputy chair
of the parliament, but they did not have a stable majority. The party system
reminds one of a bird with a body (the 'party of power') and one wing
The communists remain the only effective opposition to the 'party of
power.' It is a dangerous situation, for it gives the ideologically neutral
'party of power' a pretext to introduce dictatorial rule. The forces in power
have a deliberate policy of impeding the rise of strong new opposition
parties. During the 1998 electoral campaign, they created pocket parties
in order to divert or deceive the electors, and the same practice was
repeated, with individual pocket candidates, in the presidential race.
Long before the presidential campaign a series of steps were taken to get
rid of any serious right-wing claimant for the presidency and to destroy
organized forces that could have given him support. But if rightist
politicians and parties were strong enough (in terms of program, strategy,
and popular appeal) it would be impossible for the ruling elite to damage
them so badly.
The internal crisis of Rukh and other right parties has made it easy to
destroy them. Especially important for the 'party of power' and painful
for the opposition was the breakdown of the most active and influential
party -- Rukh (Peoples Movement of Ukraine). One part of it -- romantics
and idealists who followed the former minister of foreign affairs Udovenko
-- were regarded by the broad public as a satellite of the presidential
The other part, led by Yuriy Kostenko, has little influence because it was
blamed for the schism.
There is an urgent need to unite reform-oriented political forces into
or at most two, political parties. Only then can rightist parties countervail
the power of the communist bloc and of the rising Ukrainian 'oligarchy' of
rich men, who try to combine in their hands economic and political power.
The regional factor
Let us now look at the results of the second round of the election
(November 14) in regional breakdown. Ukraine's provinces fall into
-- Seven western provinces in which Kuchma won an overwhelming
majority of votes: Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Lviv, Transcarpathia,
Volyn, Chernivtsi, and Rivne.
-- Seven southern, eastern, and central provinces, in which Kuchma
won rather convincingly: Kyiv-city, Kyiv-province, Khmelnytskiy,
Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Sevastopol.
-- Nine provinces in which the communists won: Vinnitsa, Chernihiv,
Poltava, Cherkasy, Kirovograd, Kherson, Luhansk, and the
Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
-- Five provinces in which no candidate captured 50% of the votes:
Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Mykolaiv.
Many commentators have argued that Kuchma won because the voters
in western Ukraine gave a lower priority to economic concerns than to the
preservation of state independence, threatened by the communists'
intentions to integrate Ukraine with Russia. The reality is a little more
complicated. First of all, western Ukraine accounts for only about 20%
of the country's population, and is therefore unlikely to play a decisive
Secondly, Kuchma did very well in many provinces outside western Ukraine.
Thirdly, while regionalism is a significant factor in Ukrainian politics,
all-important. Thus numerous public opinion surveys conducted in recent
years show many similarities as well as differences between eastern and
western Ukraine. And lastly, to understand fully regional differences, one
must make finer distinctions than a crude division into east and west.
In 1991, west Ukrainian electors supported a Rukh candidate, but failed
to bring him to power. Kravchuk was elected president thanks to the support
of voters in southern and eastern Ukraine. But the west Ukrainians found
Kravchuk to be sufficiently pro-independence, and in 1994 they supported
him against Kuchma, who also won on south and east Ukrainian votes.
Kuchma also, against expectations, did nothing to threaten Ukraine's
independence (if one leaves economic stagnation out of account), and this
year the west Ukrainians gave him their support. There is a joke in Ukraine:
easterners elect presidents for the country, and westerners love them.
In western Ukraine, the communists are regarded as socially and
nationally alien, an occupation force. Unlike in the rest of the country,
people are still alive who remember the suffering associated with absorption
into the USSR. This makes anticommunist aspirations firm and definite.
So it is no surprise that in Galicia, the most nationally conscious province
of the western region, the communist candidate won only 4-5% of votes,
while in the other four western provinces he won no more than 20%.
People throughout the country saw no real alternative to Kuchma on the
one hand and the communists on the other, and they preferred Kuchma.
And they were quite right. It was not their fault that they were offered
such a miserable choice. It was the fault of the Ukrainian political elite,
especially of the rightist and left-centrist politicians. Their ineptitude
inability to combine forces behind a single candidate was so obvious that
it was natural for the electors not to rely on them.
The 1994 presidential election split Ukraine into eastern (left-bank)
western (right-bank) halves, separated by the Dniper River. This year's
election, by contrast, did NOT polarize the electorate between west and
east, unless one defines 'west' as consisting of Galicia alone. The most
salient division in 1999 was that between agrarian areas, oriented toward
the communists, and urban areas, which on the whole supported Kuchma.
Provinces with an anti-Kuchma majority were situated on both sides of
the Dniper, reflecting not so much cultural as economic factors, above all
the desperate situation in Ukrainian villages. If in the cities people have
not been paid their wages for months, in some villages they have seen no
money for years. They feel: 'We don't care if the communists return to
power. We lived somehow under the communists. We just want to be paid
our wages. Symonenko promised to do that. Why not give him a try? It
cannot be worse than it is already.'
The 'red belt' extends across the country from the Belorussian border
near Chernobyl in the north to Mykolayiv and Kherson on the Black Sea
coast. The Ukrainian peasantry is as conservative as that of any other
country. In post-communist countries, 'conservative' means pro-communist.
In industrial regions of both east and west, where workers constitute
the majority of voters, concerns were also predominantly economic, rather
than nationalistic or political. Nevertheless, workers seem to be more
politically sophisticated than peasants. Many of them were aware that
if the communists returned to power they might stop progress altogether,
leading to even worse poverty and misfortune.
Public opinion surveys conduced in Lviv (west) and Donetsk
(east) provinces in 1991 and 1998 show differences on such issues as
revival of the Ukrainian nation and language, and also ecology, but close
similarity on economic issues. It is these commonalities that make the
consolidation of the Ukrainian state feasible. In 1994, the two main
candidates for president, Kravchuk and Kuchma, happened to differ
only on those issues that divide east from west. In 1999, that was
definitely not the case.
After the election
There are two visions of Ukraine's future in Kuchma's second
term: a moderately optimistic one and a totally pessimistic one.
The optimists anticipate a consolidation of power in the hands
of the president, who will then try to restart reforms and diminish the
influence of oligarchs and criminals (who are often the same people).
But does everything now depend on the president's will? If so,
what motives might induce him to do these things? One answer is: honor,
the desire to leave a good imprint on Ukrainian history. But honor is not
enough. Kuchma would need sufficient strength to resist the pressures
of the oligarchs, and for that he would need to be able to count on the
support of strong organized political forces. Unfortunately, there are no
such forces. First a new political bloc would have to be built, capable of
safeguarding market reform and democracy.
The pessimists expect the further deterioration of
socio-economic conditions and a shift toward a more authoritarian
regime. The oligarchs who stand behind the re-elected president are not
interested in democracy, though they may not be interested in establishing
a dictatorship either. So we may expect the growing hidden (under the
carpet, as we say in our country) domination of economically powerful
people and clans, who will exterminate any real opposition. At its extreme,
this scenario leads to the direct seizure of power by the Mafia, with the
removal of Kuchma ahead of time by means of impeachment or otherwise.
In my view, the optimists underestimate and the pessimists overestimate
the strength and political activity of latent pressure groups. Actually, the
oligarchs are not so powerful in Ukraine at present that no political force
can curb their appetites. All depends on the ability of political
really interested in defending public interests to mobilize public support,
as well as on the intentions of President Kuchma himself.
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