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Johnson's Russia List
25 January 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Duma rebels upset Putin's presidential march.
2. AP: New Russian Leader Putin: Democrat or Autocrat.
3. Marcus Warren: howlers.
4. Trifin Roule: Request for MVD reports.
5. Moscow Times: Jen Tracy, Kremlin Tells Press To Toe The Line.
6. The Times (UK): Journey of fear behind Russian lines. Alice Lagnado
dons disguise to discover how the Chechen rebels are defying the might of Moscow.
7. Strobe Talbott Observations on Russia's Future. (Deputy Secretary
of State's January 20 lecture at Oxford)
8. Interfax: TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT RUSSIAN-U.S. RELATIONS.]
ANALYSIS-Duma rebels upset Putin's presidential march
By Oleg Shchedrov
January 24, 2000
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Minority rebels in Russia's new parliament may have
hindered Vladimir Putin's march to the presidency but are highly unlikely to
stop him getting there.
Until a week ago, most political analysts had been more interested in whether
Putin -- who became acting president when Boris Yeltsin resigned on New
Year's Eve -- could win in the first round without a runoff than in his
chances of victory.
Most bets are still firmly on Putin for the March 26 election, and opinion
polls support this view.
Yet four political parties united by little more than their combined outrage
at an unexpected power-sharing deal in the State Duma, the lower house of
parliament, have stirred potentially painful questions about the acting
Kremlin chief and his motives.
The four, including the hitherto pro-government Union of Right-Wing Forces
(SPS) are defiantly boycotting the Duma because of the deal between the
Communist Party and pro-Putin Unity bloc. The deal divided committee
chairmanships and gave the post of speaker to the Communists.
The rebel gesture, aimed at securing a better allocation of committee posts,
is unlikely to challenge the Kremlin's newly won control over the 450-seat
But their leaders, three of whom plan to run in the election, have received
good publicity and gathered strong arguments. Both could cost Putin votes,
spoiling his clear desire to win outright with more than 50 percent in round
PUTIN MAY BECOME SUBJECT OF PUBLIC SCRUTINY
A tough military operation in rebel Chechnya has made Putin, formerly head of
the FSB domestic security service, Russia's most popular politician. Yeltsin
made him premier three months before his own New Year's Eve resignation.
Without giving away political or economic views, Putin has emphasized the
need to restore a strong state and reimpose order, both potential vote
winners for a nation weary of a decade of stop-start reforms.
Putin's popularity exceeds 50 percent and his support for Unity and SPS
contributed to the election of a Duma where Communists no longer play a
dominating role and which could become a partner rather than opponent to the
The minority boycott changes little in the balance of forces in the Duma.
Putin aides say the rebels would find it difficult to resist lining up behind
Putin and Unity when it comes to adopting promised reformist legislation.
But at the same time Putin's deal with the Communists could leave him open to
criticism from those political forces who feel themselves sidelined.
Putin has so far had only one serious challenger for the presidency,
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who poses only a limited threat in a
country where Communist and non-Communist voters seldom change sides.
The entry into the presidential race of other non-Communist candidates --
such as an SPS leader Konstantin Titov, former Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov and liberal Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky -- would be a serious
setback for Putin.
The parliamentary deal gave the rebels the chance to blame Putin for a lack
of principles or cynical pragmatism.
Even more dangerous is the prospect of non-Communist rivals raising issues so
far subdued by the wave of public support for Putin -- the growing death toll
in the Chechnya war and the largely neglected economy.
KREMLIN UNIMPRESSED BY THE REBEL THREAT
Putin made a pre-emptive strike in a weekend interview on RTR television,
saying there was no chance for a long-term alliance with the Communists,
whose views he did not share.
Putin distanced himself from the parliamentary row, but said he hoped for
liberal support in the Duma.
Nevertheless, the Kremlin appeared unimpressed by the minority rebellion.
Some of his aides have even said the Duma incident could be turned to Putin's
``Putin's public image of a man who can make it, born at the start of the
Chechnya war, has started fading,'' said one Kremlin aide. ``He could refresh
it by imposing his will on (the) unpopular Duma to make it more effective.''
``Besides, a deal with the Communists showed the Duma is possibly heading for
a two- or three-party system in which every party is valued by its weight,''
New Russian Leader Putin: Democrat or Autocrat
January 24, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Western experts are having difficulty deciding whether
Russia's new leader, Vladimir Putin, will be an effective democrat or a
throwback to authoritarian rule.
While assuming the acting president will be elected March 26 and lead Russia
for some time, a panel of analysts affiliated with both liberal and
conservative think tanks agreed Monday only that much about Putin is an
"Putin remains as much a riddle to Russians as he does to us," said Thomas
Graham of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Graham said Putin
appears to have good knowledge of the West but already has shown he may not
be so adept at knowing how Russia works.
A key will be how aggressively he goes after corruption once he is elected,
But Graham acknowledged that if Putin comes down too hard, that could be
viewed by some as an anti-democratic abuse of power.
"Inevitably, an effort to reinstall some order is going to look
authoritarian," he said.
Ariel Cohen, a Russian expert at The Heritage Foundation, the forum's
sponsor, said Putin demonstrated his closeness to the military in a spirited
visit to troops and has been separating himself from the presidency of Boris
Yeltsin, even though Yeltsin handpicked him as his successor.
Cohen said Putin has shown with his dismissals and appointments that he may
be tactically strong, but he may have weakened himself strategically be
getting embroiled in a parliamentary standoff.
Putin insisted Sunday in Moscow that he played no role in a deal that has
frozen the parliament for a week and prompted questions about his commitment
to reform. About 100 lawmakers stalked out last week after the pro-Kremlin
Unity and the Communists installed Communist Gennady Seleznyov as speaker.
Cohen said Putin may not be quite the reformer American officials are
describing but likely will not be the dictator some observers fear, either.
He said U.S. officials have to decide what they want or expect from Russia,
both domestically and internationally.
"The main question is whether it is possible to outline some kind of scenario
in which Russia, the United States and Europe look for improved relations,"
Charles Fairbanks, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the
Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University,
said the high-stakes Russian assault on Chechnya now being led by Putin poses
many dangers, including confrontation with neighboring Georgia.
He and other panelists said there could be no clear winner in the battle.
"You can't define victory or defeat for either side," Graham said, adding
that even if Putin figures out a way to defeat the Chechen rebels, he still
will be saddled with having to restore order and rebuild the battle-torn
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000
From: "Marcus Warren" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
readers might like to know that, notwithstanding a piece that appeared
name in the electronic telegraph on jan 23rd and was carried on jrl, i am more
than aware that a certain rebel republic in the north caucasus is not called
"chenchya" and that there are a good deal less than 250,000 interior ministry
troops based there.
some overconfident intervention by colleagues in london appears to have been
responsible for these and a few other eccentricities in the copy. i apologise.
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000
From: Trifin J Roule <email@example.com> )
Subject: Request for MVD reports
I am searching for recent annual MVD reports (in
English or Russian) that contain statistics on criminal activities, such
as murder rates, contract killings, instances of bribery, etc.I was hoping
a list member might be able to provide this information.
Trifin J. Roule
University of Pittsburgh
January 25, 2000
Kremlin Tells Press To Toe The Line
By Jen Tracy
With the war in Chechnya dragging on and presidential elections approaching,
Russian officials say they're determined to keep negative news coverage - by
Russians or foreigners - from interfering with either the war or the
In the case of commercial NTV television - which has questioned official
casualty figures - they backed up their warning with action, booting NTV from
press trips that enable TV cameras to focus on the fighting.
Vladimir Kozin, a Foreign Ministry adviser, said in an article Monday in
Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Western journalists were telling only the Chechen
"It's an obvious fact: The leading Western television and radio stations give
airtime exclusively to the Chechen separatists and their allies, consciously
distorting the situation in the North Caucasus."
Kozin called for "more decisive and concrete actions in creating an
information blockade in relation to those participants of the Western
journalist pool who are undertaking subversive work on the territory of the
republic of Chechnya and in neighboring subjects of the Russian Federation."
Russian officials have been quick to criticize adverse coverage of the war.
When Reuters and The Associated Press printed accounts of heavy casualties
among members of a Russian armored column in Grozny's Minutka Square,
officials accused the journalists of working for foreign intelligence
agencies trying to undermine the Russian war effort.
Public support for the war has been an important element in the rise of
acting President Vladimir Putin's popularity ahead of the March 26
presidential elections. Russian officials have been at pains to present their
case, opening a government briefing center and adopting some media relations
techniques from their NATO rivals, such as footage of bombings.
Putin has brought in Sergei Yastrzhembsky, former adviser to Boris Yeltsin,
to help spin the war in Chechnya.
The media "should take into account the challenges the nation is facing now,"
Yastrzhembsky was quoted as saying by Kommersant newspaper Friday. "When the
nation mobilizes its forces to achieve some task, that imposes obligations on
everyone including the media."
Alexander Voloshin, Putin's chief of staff, last week ordered security
services to "make sure that foreign citizens and organizations do not play
any part in the election campaign," Itar-Tass reported.
Voloshin wasn't specific about what kind of organizations, or which foreign
countries posed the threat, saying "external forces must be prevented from
drawing up and implementing" unspecified information agendas.
Voloshin stressed that elections would be held during "the concluding phase
of the counterterrorist operation" in the North Caucasus.
"There are forces that are not interested in stability in the North
Caucasus," Voloshin said. For this reason Russian security agencies must
"forestall efforts by foreign special services to destabilize the situation
in this region."
NTV television - the major non-government television station - said Sunday
that it had been excluded from trips to Russian positions in the field for
broadcasting an interview with a Russian officer who talked about significant
losses in Chechnya.
NTV correspondent Yury Lipatov said military spokesmen had accused him of
spreading lies and said they would no longer provide the network with
Lipatov said the move amounted to "censorship."
"One would not like to think that this is how all information gets to Moscow
and how viewers of all the television stations are informed," he said during
"If you can hide one incident in which a column was struck and tens were
killed and others missing in action, then you can hide a similar incident
with a second column as well.
During the 1994-96 Chechnya war, hard-hitting coverage by NTV played a
significant role in turning public opinion against the war, with reporting
from the front line that refuted the rosy reports from military officials.
This time around, however, NTV has been more cautious, but has still
questioned government casualty figures.
Meanwhile, the editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets, Pavel Gusev, said that police
had visited one of his reporters and threatened to detain him in a mental
hospital in a town east of Moscow.
Alexander Khinshtein, with the help of his lawyer, fended off police attempts
to take him to a mental hospital in Vladimir - about four hours from Moscow -
Tuesday and has gone into hiding, Gusev said. The lawyer argued that since
Khinshtein was off sick from work, the law did not permit him to be
Police said that the charge that led to the request for a psychiatric
examination was a driving-license offense from 1997. His editors said this
week's police action was prompted by Khinshtein's reporting.
Khinshtein has accused Boris Berezovsky of helping to finance Islamic
militants fighting Russian troops in Chechnya. Khinshtein has attacked
Berezovsky and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo on his Sunday evening
television show on TV Tsentr, a station controlled by Moscow Mayor Yury
Luzhkov, a Kremlin opponent.
The Times (UK)
January 25 2000
[for personal use only]
Journey of fear behind Russian lines
Alice Lagnado dons disguise to discover how the Chechen rebels are defying
the might of Moscow
I TOOK the arm of my "cousin", a young Chechen woman, and slid along the icy
road past the so-called checkpoint between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Without
glasses, a sure giveaway, I could make out only shapes in khaki uniforms and
trod gingerly on the ice. But they let us past: to them two ordinary Chechen
women in headscarves and long skirts. I was then joined by a guide.
At the first Russian checkpoint just inside Chechnya I looked down terrified
that the Russian soldiers would ask my guide who I was. Hr hr! I practised
under my breath, the Chechen way of saying yes, sure.
We had decided that if the soldiers asked questions, my guide would say I was
his wife and spoke no Russian and would talk to me in Chechen.
But they were conscript, not paramilitary, Omon police, and we got through.
At the final checkpoint my guide was recognised by the Russians. He gave them
a small bottle of brandy to make sure. "It was a present, but I don't drink."
The Russian soldier took it without a word. We were in. I had been driven to
the border, got out to walk past guards, driven to a Chechen village where I
took a taxi with my female "cousin" and got back in the original car to take
us to the place that will be my home for the next few days.
Suddenly my guide told me we were home in a village much like those in
I had planned to take a local bus for part of the route, so I had to leave my
precious computer and flak jacket in Ingushetia. At first glance I could pass
for a local: I had clipped my hair up so it looked as if I had a bun under my
headscarf like all Chechen women do. I had bought 70-rouble plastic boots and
a chequered shopping bag in which I hid my rucksack and satellite phone.
Now inside, my host said I must not be recognised as foreign by anyone beyond
his immediate family. So I must continue to dress like a refugee and live in
a room with a locked door, not even going to the outside lavatory without a
chaperone. If the people living in a house in the same yard found out I was a
foreign journalist, word could get to the Russians - spoiling life not only
for me but for my hosts.
We have to be careful: though the village is in officially Russian-controlled
territory, during the past few days Russian forces have surrounded it
possibly in preparation for another "mopping up" operation, which means
checking passports and looking for fighters. They do not seem to be in any
If it was tricky for me to get into Chechnya then it was far harder for Edik,
a tall young man of 25, to get out of Grozny. Edik, a telephone engineer from
the city, spent the past five months fighting there and came out on Sunday.
He worked in different areas of the city but was last in the Zavodsky region
in southwest and central Grozny. His mother, father, two brothers aged eight
and ten and sister aged 27 are barely surviving in their cellar in Grozny. He
told me how the rebels fought.
"We fought in groups of 20 or 30 and stood in trenches defending different
sections of the city," he said yesterday. "We used sub-machineguns,
machineguns and rocketpropelled grenades. We worked one week on, one week
off. After a week you catch a cold, you need to recover and relax. We worked
in five-hour shifts. In the five hours we had off there was a lot to do -
eat, pray and so on.
"When we are on duty we are ready to shoot if we see something like a tank
coming. We don't bother with people just running around. In the Zavodsky
region there wasn't much going on; we were just standing guard. The Russians
were 1½ kilometres further back from us. There are three to four women in
every unit who cook and clean, but if necessary they can shoot.
"The Russians are only on the outskirts of Grozny. When they say they have
taken somewhere like the Kontserny Bridge by the Kontserny factory, they are
actually ten kilometres away from it. The only Russians who are not right on
the outskirts of Grozny are in the Staraya Sunzha region and the
Staropromyslovsky region, on the heights there.
"I passed through Minutka two days ago on my way out of Grozny and there were
no Russians there. There are no Russians in the centre and there is no street
fighting. The main Chechen field commanders are all in the centre of Grozny.
Shamil Basayev [the Chechen leader] is there." Edik, who said he was a Muslim
but not a militant, reckoned that most rebels in Grozny were local men like
himself who took up arms because they saw no choice. There were no Wahhabis -
fundamentalist Muslims - in the city. "I can't bear them," he said.
Conscripts sometimes shouted to the rebels to come out and agreed not to
shoot. "Recently when we were in the Chernorethie area of Grozny they called
to us and we agreed not to shoot. They were 18 or 19, and thin. They told us
they hadn't seen any water for two months. They ask us for food just like in
the last war."
Edik said that he bought weapons with several thousand dollars, his savings
from the past three years, and that the men in his unit often funded
themselves. Rich Chechen businessmen in Moscow also financed the rebels, he
Like many Chechens, Edik is more interested in saving his city than fighting
for Chechen leaders, whether Aslan Maskhadov or Basayev. "Maskhadov should
not be President for long, if that's all he can do in three years. As for
Basayev, if he has left, then people would hate him. But he is fighting in
Will the Chechens ever let Russia take Grozny? "No, the Russians will leave,"
he said - an ordinary young man with something to fight for.
U.S. Department of State
24 January 2000
Text: Talbott Observations on Russia's Future
(Deputy Secretary of State's January 20 lecture at Oxford) (4,870)
Oxford University, England -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe
Talbott discussed in a January 20 lecture Russia's difficult struggle
to break free of its past, focusing particularly on the situation in
"Russia today is already a pluralistic society and political system,
not just by comparison with 1945 but by comparison with 1991, when
political power was still concentrated in one institution, the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union," he said in remarks at Oxford
But in the past decade, Talbott said, "Chechnya has been a recurrent
obstacle to Russia's movement in the direction that we, and many
Russians, hope will mark its course. While elsewhere across the
vastness of Russia, reformers have been experimenting with what they
call new thinking, the seemingly intractable conflict in the Northern
Caucasus has brought out the worst of old thinking: namely, the
excessive reliance on force and the treatment of entire categories of
people as enemies."
But "it's not just the old-thinkers who are to blame for this
relapse," he added. "From 1992 through 1993, a reformist government in
Moscow left Chechnya largely to its own devices. The combination of
Moscow's neglect and miserable local conditions whetted the Chechens'
appetite for total independence."
Chechnya is "a gruesome reminder of how hard it is for Russia to break
free of its own past."
Talbott pointed out that the Chechnya conflict "has fanned the
resurgence" of nationalism in Russia, and "it has also come to
symbolize for many Russians a more general sense of grievance and
vulnerability after a decade of other difficulties and setbacks, real
and imagined -- most conspicuously the enlargement of NATO and the
"But while there are these ominous trends, they haven't by any means
won. The political environment of their ebb and flow is still
pluralistic. Atavistic voices and forces are contending with modern
ones that advocate an open, inclusive society and an open, cooperative
approach to the outside world."
Acting President Vladimir Putin's intentions are not completely clear,
Talbott said, noting that "Mr. Putin himself told me when I saw
him...[that] he wants to see Russia as 'part of the West.' Granted, he
has sent other, quite different signals to other, quite different
audiences....We can speculate together -- and that's all we can do at
this point -- on exactly what he's up to in his recent parliamentary
One theme Putin does repeat, "whomever he's addressing, is a desire to
see Russia regain its strength, its sense of national pride and
purpose," Talbott said. While that is an "indispensable" goal, "it all
depends on how Russia defines strength, how it defines security. Will
it do so in today's terms or yesterday's -- in terms that are proving
successful elsewhere, or in terms that have already proved disastrous
for Russia under Soviet rule?"
Furthermore, "will Russia recognize that in an age of global -- and
regional -- interdependence, the porousness of borders is a necessity
out of which a viable state must make a virtue? Or will it fall back
into the habit of treating this and other facts of life as a
vulnerability to be neutralized, or -- that most Soviet of all verbs
-- to be liquidated?"
The answers to these questions "will probably be evolutionary, not
revolutionary," Talbott said. "In the final analysis, it's the
Russians themselves and no one else who will decide on the character
of their state."
What can the West do? "We can and must be steady about our own
objectives, our interests and our values; we must be clear and
consistent about what we can support and what we must oppose; we must
use such influence as we have, even if it's at the margins (as it
tends to be), to encourage Russian democratization at the grass-roots
level through exchanges and technical assistance programs that support
elections, party-building and civil society," Talbott said.
Following is the text of his speech:
THE CROOKED TIMBER: A CARPENTER'S PERSPECTIVE
BY STROBE TALBOTT U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE
All Souls College, Oxford University
January 21, 2000
(AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY)
This afternoon, I'd like to make some observations about Russia. I'd
like to do so from a perspective that is rooted in my experience at
this university and in my exposure then, and over the years since, to
a great man associated with this college: Isaiah Berlin. I'm taking
this approach in part out of a sense of gratitude to Berlin, and to
Henry Hardy, who is here this afternoon, and who has made Berlin's
thinking, lecturing and writing accessible and enduring through a
whole shelf of books which, by the way, keep coming. Another
collection of Berlin's essays arrived just a couple of weeks ago, as I
was thinking about what I'd say here today. It's called The Power of
Ideas, and it captures, in crystalline fashion, not just the power of
ideas in history but the utility of Berlin's own ideas in
understanding what is happening in a country that fascinated him all
of that long, prolific and exemplary life -- itself depicted so
vividly and sympathetically by Michael Ignatieff.
I met Isaiah Berlin 32 years ago, during my first visit to Oxford. It
was in the summer of 1968. I was working as a summer intern in the
London bureau of TIME magazine. Just before midnight on August 21,
Soviet tanks overran Czechoslovakia and crushed the Prague Spring. The
TIME bureau chief sent me out to Wolfson College to interview Berlin
on what it all meant. I remember the conversation clearly. He talked,
at great speed but with great clarity, about how the invasion proved
the weakness of a regime that relied so utterly on brute strength, and
how it revealed I remember to this day the word he used -- the
"decrepitude" of the Soviet system and of its ideology.
I returned to Oxford the following month, this time as a student. In
addition to attending Berlin's lectures whenever I could, I got to
know several of his friends, including the Pasternak sisters, Lydia
and Josephine. On the walls and in the attics of their homes in North
Oxford, they had a collection of paintings by their father, Leonid.
Another member of that circle was Max Hayward, a Fellow of St.
Antony's College and the renowned translator of Doctor Zhivago, who
supervised my B.Litt. thesis.
It was as a student at Oxford with long vacations that I made my first
visits to Russia. On one of those trips, the Pasternak sisters put me
in touch with their brother Alexander, who took me to his father's
grave in Peredelkino. On another, Max Hayward introduced me to
Nadezhda Mandelstam. She was then well into her 70s and working on a
memoir that Max was putting into English.
Superficially, my meeting with her was full of grim cliches: an
electric samovar that was more of a fire hazard than a convenience,
smoky lace curtains on the kitchen window, stale cakes and biscuits,
and my own personal KGB tail, ill-disguised as a waiting taxi. But the
visit, which lasted nearly until dawn, helped me understand the
dualism of Russian culture and Russian politics -- that is, the way in
which that country combined the most admirable and the most horrific
of human qualities.
Now, before I go further, let me ask: does this anecdote sound
familiar? Does it perhaps even sound plagiarized? It certainly seemed
to me at the time, 30-odd years ago, eerily like the story that Berlin
so often told of his own all-night conversation with Anna Akhmatova
more than two decades earlier, in Leningrad in 1945. In the years that
followed, Akhmatova wrote him into her Poem Without a Hero as the
"guest from the future," and he brought her to Oxford to receive an
honorary degree in 1965.
Akhmatova lived under a regime that epitomized what Berlin called
monism -- "the faith," as he put it, "in a single criterion." Monism
holds that there is one overarching answer to who we are, how we
should behave, how we should govern and be governed. It's when the
powers-that-be claim to have a monopoly on the good, the right and the
true that evil arises, jeopardizing, as Berlin puts it, "what it means
to be human." Monism is the common denominator of all those other
isms, including the ones that led to Stalin's Great Terror, Hitler's
Final Solution, and to so much else that made the 20th century in so
many ways so dreadful.
Professor Berlin formally became Sir Isaiah in 1957. But he had
already been, for many years, a knight in the moral, intellectual and,
in the broadest sense, political crusade against monism. He was a
champion of pluralism, the spirit of openness and tolerance whereby a
community encourages different and, more to the point, competing ideas
of what is good, true and right.
In pondering the struggle between monism and pluralism, Sir Isaiah
rejected the idea of historic inevitability, not least because it was
itself monistic. Instead, he believed in what might be called the
pluralism of possibilities. One possibility which he thought and wrote
about was that Russia, over time, would break the shackles of its own
He asserted that belief -- in a diplomatic cable, no less -- in 1945,
immediately after his first meeting with Akhmatova. He returned from
Leningrad to the British embassy in Moscow, where he was working at
the time, and wrote a visionary dispatch to Whitehall. It expressed a
hope that the vitality and the magnificence of Russian culture might
withstand, and eventually even overcome, what he called the "blunders,
absurdities, crimes and disasters" perpetrated by a "most hateful
despotism"; in other words, that the best in the Russian dualism might
win out over the worst.
As it happened, there was in Russia at the same time, also working as
a diplomat, another great figure who would also later be associated
with this college and whom I several times ran into having lunch or
dinner with Max Hayward at La Luna Caprese on North Parade Street. I
am referring, as I'm sure you've guessed, to George Kennan.
In a cable of his own from Moscow in February 1946, Kennan took
Berlin's hope one step further and made it into a prediction. He
discerned in the USSR, even then, in those bleak days (and I quote),
"tendencies [that] must eventually find their outlet in either the
break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power." In the meantime,
Kennan urged the West to pursue a policy of containment.
So here we are, nearly 55 years after Kennan's Long Telegram and
Berlin's somewhat shorter one; and here we are, nine years since much
of Kennan's prophecy came true. American and British policy have moved
from containment to engagement. The nub of that policy is to work with
Russia as it seeks to become -- in a phrase that many Russians use in
describing their own aspirations for their own country -- a normal,
modern, democratic and civilized state.
Russia today is already a pluralistic society and political system,
not just by comparison with 1945 but by comparison with 1991, when
political power was still concentrated in one institution, the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Now power is dispersed among
numerous competing entities at various levels. For the first time in
their history, Russian citizens are voters in real elections.
In putting their Soviet experience behind them, many Russians are
saying that they've had their fill of ideology -- that is, ideology
per se. In fact, the ideology of needing an ideology seems to be
fading in a country where, as Berlin pointed out, "ideas were taken
more seriously, and played a greater and more peculiar role... than
anywhere else" on earth.
Shortly after disbanding the Soviet Union and dismantling the Soviet
system, President Yeltsin proposed, and the Russian people adopted by
referendum, a constitution that explicitly prohibited "a
state-sponsored or compulsory ideology."
Then, in 1995, Mr. Yeltsin seemed to have second thoughts. He
established, with much fanfare, a blue-ribbon commission to define
Russian national identity and Russian national destiny. This was a bit
of a throwback; it was yet another attempt to answer what Russians
themselves have, over the last two centuries, called the proklyaty
vopros, the accursed question: Where is Russia coming from? Where is
it bound? In many of his essays and lectures, Sir Isaiah pondered the
Russian intelligentsia's fixation with this question, and he stressed
how various attempts to answer it have been a curse not just for
Russians but for anyone living within the ambit of their military
The good news was that Mr. Yeltsin's re-asking of the accursed
question petered out. Why? Quite simply, I'd suggest, because Russia
had already become diversified enough, pluralistic enough and above
all free enough not to want, need, or even agree upon an ideology.
Of all this, I think, Sir Isaiah would approve. But I'm sure he would
do so with caution. He often warned that before there would be truly
something new and better under the Russian sun, there would be what he
called "false dawns."
He was very much a realist, not just about Russia, but about human
nature. The quintessence of realism was, for him, contained in an
epigram by Immanuel Kant: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no
straight thing was ever made." Henry Hardy made that phrase, "the
crooked timber of humanity," the title of a volume of Berlin essays.
What those five words mean, to me at least, is this: not only are
utopias impossible over the long run, but mistakes, cruelties and
disasters are inescapable in the short run, especially when political
leaders seek to straighten the timber of humanity. In bending it to
their needs, to their ambitions, even (and perhaps especially) to
their sense of the greater good, they are all too apt to break laws,
wills and lives.
Again, witness Russia. In many ways, Russia is a self-liberated
country, but it's also in many ways an unhappy, confused and angry
one. That's partly because almost every good thing that has happened
there over the past decade -- and there are many -- has had its dark
For example, the implosion of the monolithic police state has left a
vacuum of the kind that nature -- especially human nature -- abhors.
In place of the old, bureaucratized criminality there is a new kind of
lawlessness. It's what my friend and colleague, Bronislaw Geremek, has
called "the privatization of power"; and it has, quite literally,
given a bad name to democracy, reform, the free market, even liberty
itself. Many Russians have come to associate those words with
corruption and with the Russian State's inadequacy in looking after
the welfare of its citizens. For all these reasons, Russia's first
decade as an electoral democracy has been a smutnoye vremya, or "time
That brings me to Chechnya, which is the most visible and violent of
Russia's troubles. That republic is one of 89 regions in Russia; it
constitutes less than one-tenth of one percent of a landmass that
stretches across 11 time zones. But with every passing week, the
horror unfolding there becomes increasingly the focus of Russia's
attention and the world's condemnation. In just the last few days,
Russian forces have renewed their onslaught against Grozny, where
thousands of civilians remain trapped, unable to flee to safety. There
are reports of Chechen rebels using civilians as human shields, of
Russian military units using incendiary devices and fuel-air
explosives in residential areas.
What we are seeing is a gruesome reminder of how hard it is for Russia
to break free of its own past. Indeed, Chechnya is an emblematic part
of that past. The region has been a thorn in Russia's side for about
300 years. Leo Tolstoy served in the Czarist army there and wrote
about the often losing struggle to make those mountain warriors loyal
subjects of the Russian empire. In 1944, the year before Berlin called
on Akhmatova, Stalin had the perfect totalitarian solution to the
problem: wholesale deportation of the Chechen people -- or what we
would call today ethnic cleansing.
In this decade, Chechnya has been a recurrent obstacle to Russia's
movement in the direction that we, and many Russians, hope will mark
its course. While elsewhere across the vastness of Russia, reformers
have been experimenting with what they call new thinking, the
seemingly intractable conflict in the Northern Caucasus has brought
out the worst of old thinking: namely, the excessive reliance on force
and the treatment of entire categories of people as enemies.
And by the way: it's not just the old-thinkers who are to blame for
this relapse. From 1992 through 1993, a reformist government in Moscow
left Chechnya largely to its own devices. The combination of Moscow's
neglect and miserable local conditions whetted the Chechens' appetite
for total independence. Had Chechnya attained that status, it would
immediately have qualified as a failed state. Kidnapping, drug
trafficking, and every other form of criminality were rampant. It was
an anarchist's utopia and any government's nightmare.
When Russia tried to re-impose control, the result was a bloody
debacle. The first Chechen war, from '94 to '96, ended, in significant
measure, because it was so unpopular. Boris Yeltsin wanted the
fighting over before he faced re-election, so he ended it on terms
that granted the Chechen authorities even more autonomy.
But once again, Moscow, having extricated itself, averted its gaze.
The central government made virtually no effort to help establish
Chechnya as a secular, peaceful, prosperous polity within the Russian
Federation. The deteriorating conditions and free-for-all atmosphere
became an even stronger magnet for secessionists, Islamic radicals and
other extremists, many indigenous but some foreign as well. Last
summer, some of these elements used Chechen territory as a base of
offensive operations against other parts of Russia.
Now, here's where the irony is most acute: unlike the one four years
ago, the current war has had broad popular support. That's primarily
because most Russians have no doubt that this time, rather than their
army being bogged down in some remote and basically alien hinterland,
this time it's defending a heartland that is under attack from
marauding outsiders including outsiders within -- that is,
non-Russians living in Russia.
Thus, Chechnya has fanned the resurgence of another ism --
nationalism. That phenomenon was the target of particular passion and
eloquence on the part of Sir Isaiah Berlin. He saw nationalism as
inherently conducive to intolerance and friction, both inside states
and between them. He recognized that national consciousness exists, by
definition, in all nations; but he warned that when the nation in
question feels afflicted by the "wounds" of "collective humiliation,"
nationalism becomes what he called "an inflamed condition."
Russia today suffers from just such a condition. Chechyna has
generated fears, resentments and frustrations in its own right. But it
has also come to symbolize for many Russians a more general sense of
grievance and vulnerability after a decade of other difficulties and
setbacks, real and imagined -- most conspicuously the enlargement of
NATO and the Kosovo war.
But while there are these ominous trends, they haven't by any means
won. The political environment of their ebb and flow is still
pluralistic. Atavistic voices and forces are contending with modern
ones that advocate an open, inclusive society and an open, cooperative
approach to the outside world.
When I was in Moscow last month, I heard the word zapadnichestvo. It
might loosely be translated as Russia's pursuit of its Western
vocation. Zapadnichestvo is not an ism: it's in some ways the
opposite; it's an endorsement of a liberal antipathy to isms.
Moreover, I heard this word used in a favorable and even optimistic
context by at least one of Vladimir Putin's erstwhile political allies
on what Russians call "the right" of the political spectrum there --
that is, what we would call the liberal-democratic end. Zapadnichestvo
derives from the 19th-century debate between the westernizers and the
slavophiles. It was part of the vocabulary of one of Berlin's heroes,
There was at least an echo of the concept of zapadnichestvo in what
Mr. Putin himself told me when I saw him on that same trip: he said he
wants to see Russia as "part of the West." Granted, he has sent other,
quite different signals to other, quite different audiences.
He's been doing so rather dramatically in recent days. We can
speculate together -- and that's all we can do at this point -- on
exactly what he's up to in his recent parliamentary maneuvers. But one
theme that he strikes consistently, whomever he's addressing, is a
desire to see Russia regain its strength, its sense of national pride
and purpose. In and of itself, that goal is not only understandable --
its achievement is indispensable. No country can succeed without those
ingredients. It all depends on how Russia defines strength, how it
defines security. Will it do so in today's terms or yesterday's -- in
terms that are proving successful elsewhere, or in terms that have
already proved disastrous for Russia under Soviet rule? Will Russia
recognize that in an age of global -- and regional -- interdependence,
the porousness of borders is a necessity out of which a viable state
must make a virtue? Or will it fall back into the habit of treating
this and other facts of life as a vulnerability to be neutralized, or
-- that most Soviet of all verbs -- to be liquidated? Will Russia
understand that indiscriminate aerial attacks, forced movement of
populations, and civilian round-ups -- no matter what the original
provocation and ongoing threat -- are the acts of a weak and desperate
state, not a strong and clear-headed one?
This is the vexing question, not just about Mr. Putin but about his
country as a whole. It's a genuinely open question. Moreover, the
answer will probably be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Russia has
had its revolution, and its counter-revolutionary. The last thing its
people want or need is another upheaval.
Evolutions, by definition, take a long time -- surely a generation or
more. In the final analysis, it's the Russians themselves and no one
else who will decide on the character of their state.
What about us? What can we do to affect the outcome? We can and must
be steady about our own objectives, our interests and our values; we
must be clear and consistent about what we can support and what we
must oppose; we must use such influence as we have, even if it's at
the margins (as it tends to be), to encourage Russian democratization
at the grass-roots level through exchanges and technical assistance
programs that support elections, party-building and civil society.
Now, I should acknowledge that Berlin had his doubts about the
promotion of democracy as a key feature of American foreign policy. I
know, because he told me so. It happened a little over five years ago,
in November 1994, when I last visited Oxford and last saw Sir Isaiah.
I was here to give a lecture on, precisely, democracy as a goal of
U.S. foreign policy. Berlin was there, in the front row in the Univ
lecture hall, fully gowned, his eyes riveted on me, his brows arched.
It was highly unnerving. After I finished, he came up to me and, along
with several courtesies, offered his favorite piece of advice from
someone who was not, I suspect, his favorite statesman: Talleyrand.
Surtout pas trop de zele, he said. I had the distinct impression that
he was not so much reproving me as letting me in on what he felt was a
home truth about pretty much everything American, notably, including
our foreign policy.
I sensed that because of a theme that runs through his work. It's one
that has struck a chord in my mind over the seven years that I've been
in government. I see it as a kind of corollary to pluralism, to
liberalism -- and certainly to an acknowledgment of the crooked timber
of humanity. It's what Berlin termed "the unavoidability of
conflicting ends" or, alternatively, the "incommensurability" of
values. He once called this "the only truth which I have ever found
out for myself... Some of the Great Goods cannot live together.... We
are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable
loss." In short, it's what Michael Ignatieff summarized as "the tragic
nature of choice".
There are rarely final or perfect answers to the questions that arise
in public life -- or, for that matter, in private life either. All
interesting issues are, almost by definition, dilemmas; the only thing
worse than making a mistake is thinking you can't make one -- that
you've got the only answer or all the answers. We must face the
inevitability of undesirable, potentially hazardous consequences even
if we make what we are convinced is the right choice.
Had Berlin taken the matter that far and no further, he would have
left all of us -- including those of us in the foreign-policy-making
business -- in a cul-de-sac, a state of moral paralysis. But he did
not leave us there. He argued that the difficulty of choice does not
free us from the necessity of choice; recognizing a dilemma is no
excuse for equivocation, indecision or inaction. We must weigh the
pro's and con's and decide what to do. If we don't, others will
decide, and the ones who do so may well act on the basis of one
pernicious ism or another. All in all, the making of choices,
especially hard ones, is, he believed, an essential part of "what it
means to be human."
It is also, I might add, the essence of statecraft. There are numerous
examples in the conduct of policy toward Russia. I'll elaborate on two
that I've already mentioned in passing: NATO enlargement and the
Seven years ago, at the beginning of this Administration, we faced a
choice about the future of NATO. Given most Russians' fears that NATO
is irredeemably hostile to their interests, many in Europe and in the
U.S. felt that we should retire the Alliance with honor. But, we said:
that would leave us without the means of deterring or, if necessary,
defeating threats to our common security. Okay, said others, then we
should keep NATO in business but freeze it in its Cold War membership.
But, we said that would mean perpetuating the Iron Curtain as a
permanent fixture on the geopolitical landscape and locking newly
liberated and democratic states out of the security that the Alliance
So instead, we chose to bring in new members while trying to make real
a post-Cold War mission for the NATO in partnership with Russia.
Then, earlier this year, we faced another tough choice in the most
troubled part of Europe, the former Yugoslavia. Diplomacy and
sanctions failed to bring Slobodan Milosevic to heel; he launched the
seventh Balkan war of the century and the fourth of this decade. Given
Russian neuralgia about NATO and Russian affinity for Serbia, many in
the West warned that the Alliance's resort to force would lead to an
irreparable breach in our relations with Moscow, and perhaps even
risked a cataclysmic conflict. We chose to use force anyway. But we
succeeded in enlisting Russia in an all-out diplomatic effort to end
the bombing on terms that would also end Serbia's ethnic cleansing in
If either of these matters had been up to you, I suspect several would
have chosen differently. But had President Clinton, Prime Minister
Blair and the other leaders of the Alliance accepted your advice, we'd
be here today discussing a whole different -- and I believe worse --
set of difficulties.
That's my point, and it's deeply Berlinian: yes, the timber of
humanity is crooked. But that doesn't change our responsibility to do
our best with the building supplies at hand. We're all engaged in
carpentry, and good carpenters do not blame their tools -- or, for
that matter, the nature of the wood.
Carpenters do, however, sometimes blame the architects -- the grand
strategists and the purveyors of all-encompassing and uncompromising
answers. And rightly so. It's their blueprints, after all, whether
simplistic or grandiose, that cause monstrosities to be built. Sooner
or later it's a job for the carpenters to tear down these firetraps
and start over.
That, in a nutshell, is what's happening in Russia, the land of Stalin
and Akhmatova -- the land that Sir Isaiah fled at the beginning of the
past century as a little boy and where he returned mid-century as a
guest from a better future that is, for all its troubles, a little
easier to imagine in the new century just begun. I hope he would
agree. I wish he were here to say. But I'm glad he's on our shelves
and in our minds to help us along that way.
TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT RUSSIAN-U.S. RELATIONS
TALLINN. Jan 24 (Interfax) - With Vladimir Putin as acting Russian
president there remain every chance for Russian-U.S. cooperation, U.S.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said on Monday.
In response to an Interfax question at a news conference in
Tallinn, Talbott noted that personal contacts are important in politics.
He and Putin developed a good relationship during the Kosovo crisis
and had their last meeting about a week before Putin became acting
president, Talbott said.
Putin, Talbott went on, was active in looking for a solution to the
Kosovo crisis and proved that his involvement could contribute to the
improvement of relations between countries.
Talbott said that from Tallinn he will proceed to Helsinki for
talks on key issues with Russian officials. The Russian Embassy in
Tallinn said the U.S. diplomat would meet with Russian Deputy Foreign
Minister Georgy Mamedov.
Talbott said the main problem he would like to see solved while
Putin is in power is the reduction of strategic weapons.
He also said Washington will continue assisting Russia with its
reforms and that this assistance would come via international financial
organizations of which the United States is a member.
Some sources have said U.S. President Bill Clinton may meet with
Putin in Helsinki. Talbott said there are no specific plans for this,
but he could not rule such a meeting out.
Talbott also said Chechnya remains the main source of tension
between Russia and the United States.
The United States regards Chechnya as part of Russia, but he
accused Moscow of departing from the standards of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe in dealing with terrorism and
criticized Russia for causing civilian deaths in Chechnya.
Moreover, he said, Chechnya had given impetus to Russian
nationalism. But he said he is certain that Russia will return its
attention to reforms once the crisis in Chechnya is over.
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