This Date's Issues: 4121
Johnson's Russia ListReturn to CDI's Home Page I Return to CDI's Library
20 February 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Russia Journal: Andrei Piontkovsky, For whom Putin tolls?
2. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Moscow scandal sheet lives to razz
Putin. (the eXile)
3. Reuters: Pro-Moscow Chechen says he will free Babitsky.
4. Reuters: Reformist ex-Petersburg mayor Sobchak dies.
5. Itar-Tass: Russia Politicians Express Deep Grief Over SOBCHAK'S
6. www.deadline.ru: Declaration-2000. Statement of the
7. VOA: Peter Heinlein, GROZNY PEOPLE.
8. AP: Russian Banks Deny Wrongdoing.
9. The Russia Journal: Oleg Nazarov, Could Putin become Russia's
10. Insight magazine: Jamie Dettmer, Russians Keep Eye on U.S. Election.
11. Washington Post: Yo'av Karny, Chechen Nightmare, Russian Amnesia. Memories of a Day No One Should Forget.]
The Russia Journal
February 21-27, 2000
For whom Putin tolls?
By Andrei Piontkovsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The moment of truth for things Russian at the Davos forum came with a
question from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Trudy Rubin put to the official
Russian government delegation at the "Russia at the crossroads" panel.
TV screens round the world showed the ensuing scene. For almost an hour and a
half, the important Russian officials had been speaking in dull,
bureaucratic, but highly confident terms about the bright future that awaited
Russia under the presidency of Vladimir Putin. That Putin would indeed be
elected president was not under the slightest doubt in their minds.
Trudy Rubin then interrupted them with a simple and perhaps even somewhat
naive question: "But who is Putin? We don't know anything about him. Perhaps
you could tell us something about him?" There followed a long, embarrassing
silence greeted by laughter and applause from the audience.
The distinguished gentlemen who in the corridors had been busy aggressively
pushing their product under the brand name "Vladimir Putin, next Russian
president" were at a loss - none of them wanted to speak out in public, or
dared not speak out in public. Just like when referring to the deceased -"one
either speaks well of them, or says nothing at all. Only Putin is still very
much alive and politically kicking.
When the silence from the podium dragged on so long as to become unbearable
and quite scandalous, First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov finally
mumbled a few platitudes, misinforming the audience while doing so.
Next day, I had my own panel "Russia and the West" with four other analysts,
and we were confronted with the same question - who is Putin?
"Don't pretend you don't know who Putin is," was my answer. You are just not
prepared to face the truth. I have no more knowledge about Putin than you
have. But what I do know is enough for me to make my personal judgement as an
ordinary Russian voter about this contender for the post of president - that
this man is dangerous for my country and for the world.
This is a man who has shown a complete disregard for human life, cynicism and
hypocrisy, and a willingness to use war and the deaths of thousands of
Russian soldiers and innocent civilians as a PR instrument in his election
This is a man who raised a toast on the anniversary of Stalin's birth, had
the plaque commemorating former KGB head Yury Andropov restored to its place
on the wall of the Lubyanka - Federal Security Service headquarters - and
dreams of seeing the statue of butcher Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the
Soviet secret police, stand once again in the center of Moscow.
Putin's St. Petersburg colleagues, as we now know, gave him the affectionate
and respectful nickname Stasi. Putin, it seems, appreciates the honor and is
doing his best to live up to the name. The Stasi was one of the most
repulsive secret services in the world, operating a decades-long slave trade,
selling off as hostages East German dissidents and even pensioners. Now, on
the threshold of the 21st century, Mr Stasi has officially established the
practice of trading his own slaves - Russian citizens. All the more so when
the citizens in question are inconvenient journalists.
With the whole world watching, Mr. Stasi is playing cat and mouse with
journalist Andrei Babitsky's life. He derives some sadistic pleasure from
this game, publicly saying that this "will teach Babitsky a good lesson and
make him scared for real."
This game is also full of political significance. It is not only Babitsky who
is being tortured in filtration camps. We are all being held in one huge
filtration camp outside the gates to the Brave New Putin-Stasi World. They
are testing our fitness for this world that awaits. How much can we swallow
in silence? How quick and how easy is it to break us? Those who don't make
the grade will be ruthlessly cast off as rejects.
Don't ask me who Putin is.
And don't ask me for whom Putin tolls.
He tolls for you.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center of Strategic Research in
February 20, 2000
Moscow scandal sheet lives to razz Putin
By MATTHEW FISHER (74511.357@CompuServe.com)
Sun's Columnist at Large
MOSCOW -- Ottawa's Frank magazine tries so hard to be salacious and nasty
that it doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves for revealing how some of
Canada's high and mighty are up to no good.
The same is true of the eXile, an English-language bi-weekly given away free
in Moscow by two self-styled American nihilists who mock everything and
everyone in Russia including themselves.
Russia is like Canada on speed and gallons of vodka. About all that Ottawa
and Moscow have in common is snow. So the lads from the eXile skate on a lot
larger ice surface than Frank. They use every last inch of it to produce a
sheet that is, frankly, a lot more scandalous.
Acting president Vladimir Putin is described as "silent but deadly" and
"anal retentive." Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov supposedly has a "phallic
conflict." A front page headline lampoons Boris Yeltsin as "the Bribefather."
Such satirical screeds, an obsession with childish pranks and the
mind-expanding pleasures allegedly derived from using narcotics, plus a
regular feature known as Death Porn, which recounts and ranks the most gross
or absurd criminal acts in Russia, are often clever and amusing. But they're
ultimately tiresome and obscure the eXile's hard-nosed reporting.
The rag, for that's what it always looks like, has often published the most
thorough and plausible accounts of Russia's seemingly endless financial
scandals, the shenanigans of such Kremlin fixtures as privatization champion
Anatoli Chubais and the army of immoral foreigners who put on their
pinstripes and came to Russia to line their pockets, all the while slagging
the locals for being greedy crooks.
Like Frank back home, few people here claim to read the eXile. But everyone
I know here is always well informed about its latest garish outrage. In only
three years the eXile has become such a fixture of Russian, or should I say
expatriate life, that it is sometimes even available at the U.S. embassy.
The eXile's bar and nightclub reviews are must reads for those seduced by
Moscow's crazy nightlife. It offers Michelin Guide-style advice about food
and booze and where those whom Frank would describe as "noted
heterosexualists" can be sated.
Far more important than that in a country where violent crime has become a
national sport, the eXile measures "flathead" or gangster levels by
publishing a ranking scheme using tiny faces with brush cuts like Michelin
Emboldened by a rapturous feature in Rolling Stone extolling their writing
and their raunchy, drug-friendly lifestyles, the eXile's editors, Mark Ames
and Matt Taibbi, have published their first book, Sex, Drugs and Libel in the
New Russia. I got a copy because they called me up and, with all the
sycophancy they could muster, asked me to review it.
The book, which is produced by Grove/Atlantic Inc., is certainly not for
everyone. It uses the rawest language and is often pointlessly cruel. But it
is a must for those who want insights into how post-Soviet Russia became such
a decadent, sinister mess.
Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia is an eclectic mixture of fact and
fiction. Those eager to follow Russia's every criminal turn, find out about
Afghani hashish or where the IMF and World Bank accountants go for a leg over
when they're not trying to save the Russian economy, should buy this book.
Where Ames and Taibbi are most interesting and often most accurate is in
their unsparing criticisms of the foreign journalists, and especially the
American journalists, dispatched to Moscow. During the last years of Mikhail
Gorbachev's reign and the first years of Boris Yeltsin's, newspaper editors
often sent their best and brightest hacks to cover this confused colossus.
Now that the story is always the same - corruption, more corruption and even
more corruption - editors have lost interest. As a consequence, many of those
now reporting from Moscow are cheerleaders from the B team. Until far too
late in Yeltsin's reign they misled their readers by repeatedly describing
the former president and his regime as successful democrats.
Given how they attack the Russian kleptocracy and the foreigners who have
tried to ingratiate themselves with it, perhaps the biggest wonder about the
eXile is that its editors are still alive and publishing. I asked Ames and
Taibbi about that when they gave me their book and they both laughed liked
Perhaps those who really count in Moscow don't read the eXile. Those of us
who don't count certainly do.
Pro-Moscow Chechen says he will free Babitsky
MOSCOW, Feb 20 (Reuters) - RIA news agency quoted a pro-Moscow Chechen leader
as saying that missing Russian war reporter Andrei Babitsky was with rebels
in a southern Chechen village and would soon be freed by his militia.
``My militia will be honoured to free, to win Babitsky from the fighters,''
Bislan Gantamirov was quoted as saying, adding that he would be handed over
to Russian troops once he had been freed. Babitsky was originally arrested by
Russian forces, who said they had handed him over to Chechen rebels in
exchange for Russian soldiers.
His whereabouts have since been unknown, although Gantamirov said he was in
Duba-Yurt, a village at the mouth of a gorge in southern Chechnya which the
rebels say they have quit.
Babitsky works for the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty.
Gantamirov, the head of the Chechen militia fighting with Russia against
separatists in the breakaway region, was quoted as denying his group had been
involved in Babitsky's detention.
``My militia did not arrest Babitsky. That's stupid. I have good relations
with journalists, I give them advice and offer cooperation in their
professional work,'' RIA quoted him as saying.
Reformist ex-Petersburg mayor Sobchak dies
By Konstantin Trifonov
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Former St Petersburg mayor Anatoly
Sobchak, a leading Soviet-era reformer who restored the city's Tsarist name,
died on Sunday from a heart attack, officials said.
Acting President Vladimir Putin was among the first to offer his condolences.
Sobchak taught Putin law and was his boss when Putin was a deputy mayor of St
A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry of the North West region of Russia
said Sobchak, 62, had died of a heart attack while staying in a sanatorium in
the town of Svetlogorsk in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic
``It is impossible to resign oneself to this loss. Anatoly Alexandrovich was
a person who was close to me, a teacher,'' Putin said in an emotional
telegram to Sobchak's widow.
``He shared not only the elements of his profession with me but also served
as a example of orderliness and firmness in the support of his convictions,''
Sobchak seemed to be well after heart problems in 1997 and newspapers had
speculated his career would get a new lease on life because of his ties with
Putin. The spokesman said Sobchak had been in Kaliningrad as Putin's official
``...Anatoly Sobchak will always remain in history as a clear representative
of a generation of politicians who created a new Russian state and its
constitution,'' Putin said.
Sobchak, taking up opportunities offered by former Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, sprang to national fame as an outspoken
member of the Congress of People's Deputies in 1989.
An ally of Boris Yeltsin, he was seen as a possible presidential candidate
and became mayor of what was then Leningrad in 1991.
RESTORED THE NAME ST. PETERSBURG
One of his first changes was to restore the city's Tsarist-era name of St
Petersburg before trying to rebuild the faded glory of Russia's
During this time, Putin moved into the city administration after 17 years
working for the KGB Soviet security police.
Putin quit the St Petersburg government when Sobchak was narrowly voted out
in 1996, losing to current St Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev.
Sobchak left for self-imposed exile in France in November 1997, when he
complained of heart problems and said he believed he was about to be arrested
under corruption charges.
He returned to Russia in July 1999 and always denied the allegations of
corruption, saying they were politically motivated. The charges were dropped
at the end of last year.
Yakovlev told a news conference he had been shocked by the sudden death.
``I was shaken when I heard of his death yesterday. He was a healthy man and
suddenly he was no more,'' he said.
Other leading figures also mourned Sobchak.
Putin has drafted many former colleagues from St Petersburg onto his
presidential team, leading one newspaper to joke about a ``Putinburg on the
Russia Politicians Express Deep Grief Over SOBCHAK'S Death. .
ST.PETERSBURG, February 20 (Itar-Tass) - The Political Consultative Council
of St. Petersburg (PKS) expressed deep sorrow over the death of Anatoly
Sobchak who was recently elected PKS chairman. Leaders of the organisation
sent condolences to the kith and kin of Sobchak -- "a real brilliant
democratic leader and an author of the present Russian Constitution".
ST.PETERSBURG, February 20. By Natalya Mikhalchenko. Representative of the
State Duma lower house at the Constitutional Court Sergei Popov said in an
interview with Itar-Tass that he regards the first St.Petersburg mayor an
outstanding politician and statesman of the nation-wide scale. In Popov's
opinion, "real division of powers" was one of the key services of Sobchak at
the post of St.Petersburg mayor.
MOSCOW, February 20 (Itar-Tass) -- "Ideal legislator, a man who inculcated us
with parliamentary culture, brilliant speaker and lawyer," said about Sobchak
one of "patriarchs" of Russian democratic movement and co-chairman of the
Democratic Russia movement Lev Ponomarev. He stressed in an interview with
Itar-Tass that Democratic Russia was formed under clear influence of ideas
and speeches of Sobchak. The co-chairman of Democratic Russia expressed
regret that Sobchak's life ended so tragically. He had "a great political
potential", Ponomaryev emphasised.
MOSCOW, February 20. By Lyudmila Alexandrova. "Following Andrei Sakharov,
Anatoly Sobchak's death is the second serious loss for democrats. The epoch
of the 1989-1990 passed with him. We cannot imagine this epoch without this
personality." This is how leader of the Peasant Party of Russia (KPR) Yuri
Chernichenko and Sobchak's colleague in the Inter-Regional deputy group
commented on his death.
"The very renaming of Leningrad into St.Petersburg is Sobchak and the return
of the second Russian capital is also Sobchak," he noted. The first
parliamentary investigation of blood-shedding -- events in Tbilisi in 1989 --
is also Sobchak, the KPR leader underlined. Jurisprudence and judiciary came
to Russia with Sobchak, he added.
In Chernichenko's opinion, Sobchak did not play an important role in Russia
over the past few years because of "regretful and insulting emigration to
MOSCOW, February 20. By Lyudmila Alexandrova. Sobckak's death is a result of
a serious nervous breakdown. This opinion was expressed on Sunday to
Itar-Tass by deputy chairwoman of the State Duma faction of the Union of
Right-Wing Forces Irina Khakamada. According to the legislator, the defeat at
the parliamentary elections was a serious stress and breakdown for him. "This
is very serious and this is a great loss," she noted.
Statement of the "Nyet" Initiative
Four years ago, we already witnessed a presidential election a la Russe,
where the program on each side could be reduced to the incantation: Either
you vote for us, or the world will collapse. Many voters cast their ballot
for one of the candidates not because they trusted him, but because the
other one was even worse. <...> Afterwards, many people regretted their
choice, when the winners, inspired by having nobody to take them to account
and to hold them responsible, revoked all concessions made to public
opinion - the end to the Chechnya war, the firing of discredited officials,
payment of wage arrears - and became even more unscrupulous in the ways of
achieving their goals.
These days, we still have the authorities that are not accountable to anyone
and that treat the people in an entirely autocratic manner.<...> In these
elections, a victory does not mean assuming obligations before citizenry,
but rather obtaining carte blanche for arbitrary actions.<...>
Alas, this is not a mere repetition of the past, because the situation has
become worse in many respects. If the previous presidential campaign
required a halt in the Chechnya war, for the purposes of the present
campaign the war was resumed; if four years ago the media had to be
purchased, now it was simply lined up; if in 1996 the use of executive
authority as a tool of the campaign was justified by the communist threat,
this time it has become such a routine that no one feels the need for any
Given all this, the "Nyet" Movement, founded in 1996 as a voters'
association, announces the resumption of its activities. <...> As in 1996,
we propose a way out of the artificially created blind alley. <...>
According to the law, if the vote "Against All" is larger than the vote in
favor of any of the candidates, the new election is to be held within four
months. In these elections, new candidates can be put forward, and the
registration rules are more simple.
<...> Since the authorities are never as sensitive to the voters' interests
as during the election campaign, let us make them extend their efforts for a
longer period of time. And, most importantly, a successful campaign "Against
All" would destroy the well-entrenched myth that "nothing depends on us,
they [the authorities] will achieve what they need anyway."
In 1996, despite the fact that all opportunities for the "Against All"
campaign were undercut from above, despite the media insistence that such a
vote had no prospect of success, about 4 million voters cast their ballot
"Against All" in the second round (assuming these figures were not rigged).
<...> After the latest Duma election, the campaign will start all over in
eight single-member districts, because most of the voters in these districts
voted "Against All". <...>
As of today, it is clear that the position formulated four years ago by the
"Nyet" Movement will make sense in Russia for many years to come. Therefore,
we invite everyone who shares the following views and principles to join our
<...> Under no conditions it is acceptable to vote for those candidates who
- are responsible for acts of violence, either directly or indirectly;
- use dirty electoral techniques;
- use government resources and levers to win the election;
- are involved in corruption or connected to criminal activities <...>
The vote "Against All" gives a real chance to compel the authorities to
start thinking about a new type of relationship that would be based on the
subordination of the government to civil society. As a result, we would
eventually get a chance to vote for the candidates worthy of our support.
The developement of civil society is impossible without having experience of
resistance to pressures and manipulations. All those nations who live in the
conditions of real democracy obtained it not as a gift from the above, but
as a result of a protracted counteraction to the authorities.
Founding Members: Pavel Bashkirov, Vladimir Bukovsky (Cambridge, UK), Yurii
Vanzha (Cherepovets), Viktor Volodin, Sergei Grigoryants, Viktor Davidoff,
Gennady Zhavoronkov, Andrei Konstantinov, Malva Landa, Vsevolod Lukhovitsky,
Lyudmila Petranovskaya, Susanna Pechuro, Pavel Protsenko, Valerii Terekhov
(St.Petersburg), Yevgenii Frumkin, Gleb Edelev (Yekaterinburg)
Coordinators: Olga Lipovskaya (St.Petersburg), Director of the Center of
Gender Problems, (812)275-8722
Kirill Podrabinek (Elektrostal'), (257) 65-176
Vladimir Pribylovsky (Moscow) (095) 159-3933
Aleksandr Eliovich (Moscow) (095) 958-9459
E-mail: email@example.com ("for Pribylovsky"), firstname.lastname@example.org
Voice of America
INTRO: Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry has
moved into the Chechen capital, Grozny, to help
survivors of the five-month military onslaught that
destroyed the city and killed countless civilians.
Authorities estimate as many as ten-thousand people
may still be living amid the rubble. VOA's Peter
Heinlein reports from the shattered city and the plight
of what residents still.
TEXT: A drab gray overcast adds to the surreal
atmosphere of Grozny this chilly February morning.
Every square meter of this once-elegant regional
capital is littered with the debris of war -- rocket
parts, twisted pieces of metal.
The only sounds are the occasional crack of rifle
fire, and the distant roar of Russian military
vehicles on patrol. The streets are mostly deserted.
But in what must be a triumph of sheer will power over
adversity, 60-year old Viktor Yermolenko is out in his
front yard on Tuchin Street inspecting his bomb-
damaged house. Standing on a ladder, he says the roof
appears to be beyond repair.
///Yermolenko act in Russian, then gunfire erupts,
and under to.///
He says "Everything is destroyed." But his sentence
is interrupted by a long burst of gunfire.
Mr. Yermolenko waits patiently for the rat-tat-tat of
the rifle to subside, then calmly returns to inspecting his roof.
Grozny is officially closed. Russian authorities tell
journalists and others wanting to see the ruins it is
too dangerous. They say there are mines everywhere,
and snipers perched in the remains of bombed out buildings.
But a walk through the streets tells a different
story. At the temporary city administration office,
Russian army colonel Evstafy Demesh says the level of danger
///Demesh act in Russian, then fade to.///
He says "Only one fresh mine has been found in the
city". He adds "We haven't had any casualties (among
Russian forces) in a month."Colonel Demesh says a surprisingly
large number of
civilians are still living in the city. About 500 have
been located in this central district, 400 in a
neighboring district, possibly as many as ten-thousand
in all. Another 100-thousand or more are believed to
be in outlying suburbs and villages.
Survivors wandering the streets say life in Grozny
remains difficult, even though the bombing has
stopped. There is no food, fresh water, gas or
electricity, except what the Emergencies Ministry supplies.
A large percentage of those who endured the months of
bombing are ethnic Russians who have lived in Chechnya
all their lives. Many, like 50-year old Taia Petrenko
say they were left behind when others fled because
they are either too old or too poor.
///Petrenko act in Russian, then fade to.///
She says "Where can I go, my mother is 85 and I have no money,
so I stayed".
54-year old Galina Ivchenko endured four freezing
months huddled in an eight meter by 10 meter room with
120 others, the oldest of whom was 98 years old.
///Ivchenko act in Russian, then fade to.///
"It was a cold, concrete basement," she says. "We were
hungry and the children were sick. It was miserable,
and there was nobody to complain to."
Most say they would prefer to live out their lives in
Grozny, but they realize there is little hope the city
they called home can be resurrected. Vitaly Gemai, a
retired electrical engineer, says it would probably be
better to simply bulldoze the remains and close Grozny forever.
///Gemai act in russian, then fade to.///
He says "anything can be rebuilt, but it would just
cause additional pain to the survivors. It's just not worth it".
But for some, these heaps of rubble are all they have
to live for. Sixty-five-year old Tamara Vitayeva is
one of those. Three months ago, at the height of the
bombing, a group of men came to her basement and took
away her only son. These days, she spends her time
sitting in a central meeting place waiting for her boy to come back
"They told me they would move me", she says "but I
told them I will sit here until my son returns."
Russian Banks Deny Wrongdoing
February 19, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian bankers linked to a massive money laundering probe
involving the Bank of New York denied any wrongdoing on Saturday.
Two suspects pleaded guilty in U.S. court last week to aiding Russian bankers
in a $7 billion money-laundering scheme: a former vice president at Bank of
New York, Lucy Edwards, and her husband, Peter Berlin.
An alleged accomplice, Alexei Volkov, said Saturday he had done nothing
Volkov, speaking in Moscow, said on ORT television that he had helped Berlin
process $6 billion in Russian money transfers, and that they were all above
Prosecutors say Russian funds were illegally transferred abroad by two
Russian banks, DKB and Flamingo, using correspondent bank accounts at The
Bank of New York, to avoid Russian taxes and customs duties.
Oleg Solovov, former deputy manager at DKB, also said his bank had done
nothing wrong according to Russian law.
``If someone wants to send money abroad ... if they submit all the proper
papers, the bank has no right not to conduct the transfer,'' he told ORT.
Investigators believe most of the money came from Russian importers trying to
avoid taxes, though they are looking into whether some came from Russian
mobsters or government coffers.
Solovov admitted that corrupt officials could use such a transfer system to
send embezzled government money overseas, but claimed that DKB avoided
dealing with state funds.
Most Russian banks don't exist for lending or protecting savings accounts,
but for serving business - including those who want to hide income from the
government. DKB and Flamingo, like other Russian banks, apparently were set
up specifically for funneling money overseas.
The DKB and Flamingo banks have gone out of business, but the prominent banks
that established them, Sobinbank and MDM, are still on the scene.
The Russia Journal
February 21-27, 2000
Could Putin become Russia's Napoleon?
By Oleg Nazarov
Oleg Nazarov is an historian at Moscow State University. He contributed this
opinion piece to The Russia Journal.
Historical analogies can always be questioned, but they sometimes give
another angle on things and can prove both interesting and topical. Take the
French Revolution, for example. It ended in the Jacobin dictatorship, a time
of mass terror and an economic policy aimed at reducing social inequality.
The fall of the Bourbon dynasty was followed by a process reminiscent of
privatization "a la Chubais." This buying and selling frenzy led to the
formation of a new business elite - French Berezovskys. The clever designer
of all these grand schemes was a certain Barras, known among his
contemporaries for his incredible cynicism and insatiable greed.
July 1794 saw the Jacobins fall and the creation of a regime known as the
Directorate, with Barras playing a key part. Like "Tsar Boris" Yeltsin's
regime, life under the Directorate was characterized by rampant speculation,
fraudulent schemes and plenty of entertainment. While the festivities went
on, the people grew poor and the workers called for a regime which would put
food on their tables - something like life in the Russian provinces today.
Politically, the Directorate was not the strongest regime; it was borne out
of pro-monarchy uprisings in Paris in 1795. Things were made worse by the
fact that the Directorate's supporters included members of the now abolished
nobility who had gotten rich during the revolution. They could certainly
expect no mercy from the royalist rebels.
The Directorate, it turned out, didn't even have any decent military
commanders, and that was when a desperate Barras put his trust in the hands
of a hitherto unknown general, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon pulled off a
miracle - with barely 6,000 men, he thrashed an opposing force of 24,000 men.
He brought cannons out into the streets of Paris, though cannons had never
been used in a city before, and left the French capital littered with
Barras' "democracy" was saved and Napoleon's ratings rose spectacularly,
despite the fact that no one really knew anything about him or his plans.
All rather like Russia today, where Putin's popularity is built on the
Chechen war, and where little is known about him and even less about his
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, commenting on Putin, said, "If he was
so surprised when he was named head of the FSB (Federal Security Service), I
don't understand why he wasn't surprised when he was named prime minister
and then Yeltsin's successor."
But things weren't so straightforward. Putin became better informed as he
rose in his career. Changes took place in the country and at the heights of
power. Putin replaced the rather bland Sergei Stepashin as prime minister
and, in August last year, at least didn't look any worse.
Yeltsin had been looking for a successor for a long time, but the deadline
was upon him and his entourage was getting nervous. The fact that the choice
fell on Putin was a mixture of coincidence and planning.
The 1993 Russian Constitution gives the president broad powers. No one is
going to revise that Constitution before elections, certainly not Putin
himself. Once he wins the elections, Putin will also gain legitimacy and be
able to free himself from the influence of the groups who brought him to
After the elections, the real Putin will come out. That is when voters will
finally find out in whose hands they've placed the fate of the country. As to
who the real Putin is, a number of possibilities emerge.
One is the Napoleon scenario. By the end of 1799, it was clear that the
Directorate's days were numbered. The people, sick of weak state authority
and mass-scale corruption, yearned for a "strong hand." Academic E. Tarle
described Barras' situation thus: "Barras had burned all his bridges, he knew
how both the royalists and the Jacobins hated him. He went to Bonaparte,
hoping to guarantee a cozy and high-up spot for himself in the new regime.
But Napoleon soon realized he couldn't keep Barras. Not that there were many
such clever, brave, subtle and nimble politicians, but Barras had become
impossible, he was not only hated, he was held in contempt."
We could substitute Putin for Napoleon, Berezovsky for Barras, and replace
the Royalists and Jacobins with the Communists and followers of Yegor Gaidar.
The only thing is that our Russian Barras is still quite certain that Putin
is the man "under whom I cannot only live in Russia, but be useful here."
Barras had bigger ambitions that weren't to be fulfilled. But he got out of
politics in time and lived out the rest of his life in relative comfort. Will
Berezovsky be so lucky?
Going back to Napoleon, by 1800, 60 out 73 newspapers published in France had
been closed, another nine followed suit later. In 1802, Napoleon decreed an
amnesty for emigre nobles; France's elite became a motley mixture of
pre-revolutionary aristocrats and upstarts from the Directorate years. In
1804, Napoleon was crowned emperor and, from then on, dictated all policy.
The opposition was reduced to silence.
Berezovsky imagines that like Napoleon, Putin won't allow any redivision of
assets, understanding "that any redivision would mean bloodshed." But a
survey carried out by the Agency for Regional Political Studies showed that
only 11 percent of people are against a redivision of assets.
Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute for Problems of Globalization,
wrote that "around half of all privatization involved direct breaches of the
law." If Putin were to organize a few trials of those who "plundered the
people's wealth," his ratings would probably shoot up again. It's probably
no coincidence that Berezovsky has rushed to get himself parliamentary
It's still not clear exactly which way Russia will go - toward an
authoritarian regime with a Russian Napoleon, or toward genuine democracy
with rule of law and separation of powers. Ultimately, much depends on the
voters themselves, for in the end, you ride on whoever carries you.
February 18, 2000
Russians Keep Eye on U.S. Election
By Jamie Dettmer in Moscow (email@example.com)
Pundits in and out of the Kremlin have an interest in who succeeds Bill
Clinton. Their favorite candidate is Al Gore, whose central role in
U.S.-Russia policy is embarrassing.
Vice President Al Gore hardly is likely to advertise the fact to primary
voters or even during the general-election campaign — that is, if he
his party's presidential nomination, as now seems likely. But he has a
substantial fan club here in Russia rooting for him to fend off Bill
Bradley's challenge, vanquish the Republicans in November and succeed
Across Russia's political spectrum - from Yevgeny Primakov's
All-Fatherland Russia Party to Western-tilted economic reformers, grouped in
coalitions such as the Union of Right-Wing Forces and the Yabloko Party -
is the U.S. presidential candidate of choice, the contestant most Muscovites
believe would dovetail the best with Russian interests. Only the Communist
Party is unsure, although its leaders hardly are delighted at the thought of
a Republican president.
At one time Gore - who liked to cite his Russia experience as a prime
qualification for why he should be entrusted with the White House - would
have boasted about his popularity among the Russian political class. But
since last fall, amid mounting evidence of official Kremlin corruption and
money-laundering, the vice president has been noticeably silent about his
central role in Russia policy and his five years as cochairman (with
then-Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin) of a commission that became
Washington's main operational and coordinating link to Moscow.
Last fall, prompted by the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal
as well as circumstantial evidence that International Monetary Fund donations
had been misused by Kremlin officials, Bradley beat Texas Gov. George W. Bush
to the attack and tore into the vice president for the Clinton-Gore
administration's close backing of President Boris Yeltsin. Bradley criticized
Gore for continuing to support aid for Russia despite mounting evidence of
official corruption and gross economic mismanagement by the Kremlin.
Bradley's attack quickly was followed by Republican presidential
candidates, with Elizabeth Dole remarking that Gore has failed in his only
major foreign-policy effort and publishing magnate Steve Forbes dubbing Gore
naive for believing that if you just threw money at people who called
themselves "reformers," the thing would take care of itself.
The U.S. presidential campaign is being followed closely here. Russian
newspapers and television frequently report the latest twists and turns of
the electoral struggle between Gore and Bradley on the Democratic side and
Arizona Sen. John McCain and Bush on the Republican side.
Most Russian politicians and analysts tend to interpret anything that
happens between the two countries through the prism of the current U.S.
elections, believing that this statement or that by Clinton about Russia is
designed to boost Gore, for example. The recent seizure of a Russian tanker
by the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf - the Americans say the vessel was
carrying Iraqi oil, breaking the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq - was viewed
by many here as part of Gore's election campaign, a bid to demonstrate to
voters how firm the administration can be with Russia when occasion calls.
Likewise, Republican criticism of Russian actions is interpreted more
often than not as a bid to pander to a residual Cold War mentality among
conservative American voters. Government officials make no secret that they
hope Gore will be the next U.S. president. One reason, they say, is that Gore
is a known quantity, someone they have dealt with closely for a number of
years. That viewpoint is echoed openly by businessman and Russian
presidential candidate Umar Jabrailov.
Another more disguised reason for the Kremlin's preference for Gore is
that it believes he is more likely to compromise and more aware of the
difficulties Russia faces in implementing the economic and political reforms
much of the West deems necessary. Gore critics, on the other hand, argue that
means the Kremlin sees him as a pushover.
Outside the confines of the Kremlin, politicians are less careful
about their assessments of the U.S. presidential candidates. In reply to a
question posed recently by the online political magazine Gazeta.ru about whom
he would prefer to succeed Clinton, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov
was highly critical of the Republicans for their "hawkish and highly
negative" attitude toward Russia, singling out McCain.
Zyuganov - who was the first of acting president Vladimir Putin's 13
rivals to register as a candidate for the Russian presidential election in
March - consoled himself with the idea that if a Republican does win the
White House in November, then things might not be that bad. "History
indicates that once in power the Republican advisers, being pragmatic and
less ideological, usually establish calmer and smoother relations with our
country," he said.
But the Communist chief is not happy with Gore, either, because of the
Clinton administration's firm backing of the Yeltsin regime. He added: "All
the current pronouncements by [U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright,
Gore and company on this issue are nothing more than attempts to save face.
There are absolutely no fresh ideas in Washington's approach to relations
with our country."
Economist Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the pro-reform Yabloko Party and
another of Putin's election rivals, hardly ever agrees with Zyuganov on
anything, but he does concur that the Clinton/Gore administration made a huge
blunder in banking so completely on Yeltsin while turning a blind eye toward
Kremlin corruption. And, like his Communist opponent, he maintains that the
White House is "determined to disguise much that has gone wrong with
Russia," mocking the U.S. administration's tendency to describe Yeltsin's
successor, Putin, as a reformer.
In a recent interview with the Russia Journal, Yavlinsky remarked:
"The U.S. faces elections this year, and it's a dangerous thing for them to
have to admit that Yeltsin's legacy isn't all so good. Essentially, it's the
single most significant assessment of the Yeltsin era. Not to call Putin a
reformer today means undoing President Clinton's entire policy over the last
eight years. And what about the elections? What about Gore? That'[s why they
decided to call Putin a reformer."
Russian politicians who aren't reform-minded are very clear where
their preferences lie. Ironically, the party of rabid right-wing nationalist
Vladimir Zhirinovsky is in the Gore camp. Zhirinovsky's son, Igor Lebedev,
needed only a single laconic sentence to describe where his father's misnamed
Liberal Democratic Party stood on the American election. "Gore would be a
better U.S. president for Russia."
Did Gore Ignore Kremlin Corruption?
The vice president used to make upbeat speeches about Russia, claiming
that the Clinton administration's policy of engagement and of firm support
for Boris Yeltsin's regime was a gamble, but one beginning to pay off. On the
campaign trail he since has been mostly silent about developments in Russia.
Al Gore's aides fear that he is vulnerable; hardly a peep has been
heard out of them concerning his close work with Viktor Chernomyrdin, who had
the longest tenure of Yeltsin's prime ministers. In Moscow, Chernomyrdin's
name has become a byword for corruption, and questions remain about how much
Gore knew about the Russian's graft - and, for that matter, the corruption
among Russia's ruling class as a whole.
Former CIA director James Woolsey, now a John McCain foreign-policy
adviser, insists that during his two-year tenure at Langley "intelligence
agencies produced a number of reports about the problem of organized crime in
Russia and widespread graft. I saw no lack of attention or lack of interest
in the National Security Council or the White House or the vice president or
the president about this issue."
But CIA officers who were involved in the drafting of those reports
and in their distribution to the White House and the vice president's office
say there was tremendous reluctance on the part of Gore and his staff to heed
the warnings. "We were told the reports were not appreciated," says one
former CIA staffer. "That was made clear to us by Langley's liaison in
Gore's office and by the vice president's national-security adviser, who was
a little firmer. They were particularly unhappy with us saying that
Chernomyrdin was on the take."
Another CIA officer maintains that the result was that Langley
"started to engage in self-censorship and to reduce both the frequency of its
corruption updates and the details included. The attitude became, 'Why
bother? No one is listening.'" He adds: "That kind of self-censorship is
actually what we mean when we talk about the politicization of intelligence."
Wayne Merry, who served as the chief political officer in the U.S.
Embassy in Moscow from 1991 to 1994, said in a recent newspaper interview
that "as administration officials became progressively more invested in
Yeltsin's government, they became progressively less interested in hearing
bad news." Like some other Russia-watchers he believes the administration too
easily bought the argument of economic reformers such as Chernomyrdin and
Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia's privatization program, that a
period of robber capitalism and cronyism would have to precede Russia's move
to a functioning free market, otherwise a capitalist class could not be
created. Economic determinism, you know.
February 20, 2000
[for personal use only]
Chechen Nightmare, Russian Amnesia
Memories of a Day No One Should Forget
By Yo'av Karny
Yo'av Karny, an Israeli writer based in Washington, is the author of the
forthcoming "Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory"
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Last week, Russia announced that it was turning
Grozny, the ruined Chechen capital, into a no-man's zone. A city where
400,000 people used to live is to be sealed off for two weeks, a senior
official announced. Russian leaflets now exhort the remaining inhabitants to
leave at once because their city is likely to be attacked by the rebels on
Feb. 23--Red Army Day.
If the rebels do launch a raid, it won't be to slight the honor of the
Russian army. They will have a different anniversary in mind: Fifty-six years
ago, on Feb. 23, 1944, the Soviet Union moved to do away with the Chechens by
forcibly relocating the entire population to Central Asia. It was the depth
of winter, and the frozen steppes offered little hospitality to the
deportees. A conservative estimate puts the death toll at around one-third of
the Chechen population. In all probability, the actual numbers were higher.
In 1994, the Chechens marked the 50th anniversary of their deportation from
their homeland. Throughout the year, huge signs adorned downtown Grozny,
depicting the number "50" against the background of raging flames and a
howling wolf (the Chechen national symbol). Impatient to destroy the Chechen
"bandits," the Russian generals could not wait for the 50th year to end
before they unleashed their first attack against the capital, in December.
The commemorative signs were among the first casualties of Russia's
Disregard for the Chechen calendar arises not only from Russian
insensitivity. Rather, it attests to the true nature of Russia's conflict
with Chechnya. Contrary to the words emanating from Moscow these days, the
problem is not exclusively one of law and order, nor one of "territorial
integrity." It is a matter impregnated with profound cultural
misunderstandings, psychological distortions and different concepts of memory
and self-esteem. There will be no end to Russia's 220-year-long conflict with
the Chechens until it pays greater attention to these factors.
I was struck by the symbolic importance of the anniversary the other day,
when Lyoma Usmanov, Chechnya's representative in Washington, asked me to join
a small delegation of Chechen parliamentarians on a tour of the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum. A member of the delegation, a chairman of the
committee that normally oversees budget, said, "The Jews understand us best."
I'm not entirely sure they do, but I understood what the chairman was trying
to say. What happened in February 1944 is the Chechen version of a holocaust.
While I know some Jews frown on the use of the word "holocaust" in a context
other than that of the Jewish experience during World War II, in doing so I
mean no disrespect. No gas chambers awaited the Chechen deportees. But in
February 1944, they were victims of a solution no less final than, say, that
of Hungary's Jews just months later.
It was shortly before the liberating Red Army troops exposed the first Nazi
death camp in Poland that troops of that same army packed the entire Chechen
nation (and their ethnic kin, the Ingush) into sealed cattle cars and
dispatched them on a three-week-long journey for "resettlement" in the east.
No Chechen or Ingush--not even the Chechen soldiers serving with the Red Army
at the German front--were spared the special treatment. The operation was run
by Lavrenty Beria, Stalin's secret police chief, who proudly reported back:
The eviction of the Chechens and the Ingush is proceeding normally: 342,647
people were loaded onto special trains on February 25 and by [February 29]
the number had risen to 478,479 of whom 91,250 were Ingush and 387,229 were
Chechens. . . . The operation proceeded in an organized fashion, with no
serious instances of resistance, or other incidents. There were only isolated
cases of attempted flights.
There is little doubt what the architects of the eviction had in mind:
Chechnya was to be divided among its neighboring provinces. Cartographers,
historians and lexicographers were told subsequently to delete any reference
to the Chechens from maps, textbooks and encyclopedias. Beginning in 1944,
there was no longer a nation by that name: It had no past, no present, no
The brief post-Stalin thaw made it possible for most of the survivors to
reclaim their possessions, but to quote a North Caucasian historian, Svetlana
Akiyeva, "the links between generations were destroyed. Many elders died
before they had the opportunity to pass on oral traditions to the young," and
much of the historical memory, and therefore the nation's identity, was lost
The Chechen independence struggle, begun in increments in 1990, was born in
the shadow of this partial amnesia, which is why it proved easy prey to
foreign Islamic militants whose espousal of the Chechen cause is a mere
subterfuge for the imposition of their own intolerant and aggressive
The Chechens and the Ingush were deported wholesale in 1944 alongside a host
of small Muslim nations, which the Soviet government indicted, convicted and
sentenced for the alleged sin of collective collaboration with Nazi Germany.
To be sure, collaboration with the Germans did take place during the brief
period of their occupation of the Northwest Caucasus (but not of Chechnya),
from late 1942 to early 1943. But collaboration in the Caucasus never matched
that which permeated Ukraine, Belorussia or the Baltic states. Yet it was the
"traitorous nations" of the Caucasus who were subjected to collective
punishment, suggesting a long-simmering intention to destroy the native
populations of the mountains. In fact, Russian generals and politicians had
been preparing blueprints for just that since the early 19th century.
The North Caucasian holocaust was as modern a genocide as any in its methods.
Evicting a whole nation almost overnight was a technological and
organizational feat on par with the best in Adolf Eichmann's repertoire. If
there is a distinction, it lies in the astonishing fact that more than half a
century after the event, the perpetrators' heirs engage in a total war
against the survivors and their descendants, betraying no compunctions, no
apparent sense of guilt, just the same old vindictiveness.
If anything, it is the Russians who feel sorry for themselves, imbued with
the certainty that they are the victims, and that their victimhood provides
them with the license to resort to another collective punishment. Despite
official apologies, which former president Boris Yeltsin extended to most of
the deportees six years ago, there is virtually no recognition of Russian
culpability. In a standard Russian textbook for 10th-graders I found a single
sentence referring to the plight of the North Caucasians under Stalin. I know
of only one literary attempt to deal with 1944 (a tale by Anatoly Pristavkin
titled, "A Golden Cloud Passed the Night").
A more introspective Russia, a less self-pitying Russia, a Russia more
willing to confront the history and moral implications of its relations with
its subject nations, would be a much better neighbor and partner. But for
that to happen, Russia would have to experience nothing short of an epiphany.
Perhaps, for now, all we can hope is that outsiders may recognize the crimes
committed against the Chechens in 1944. It would be entirely consistent with
its mission if the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum were to install a plaque
honoring the memory of the victims of the Chechen genocide, placing on
permanent display Beria's report to Stalin, and adding the cattle cars of
Chechnya to its 1941-1945 time line. Who knows, perhaps Russian visitors
would be sufficiently taken aback as to experience shame. And perhaps we
would all begin to see today's conflict for what it is.
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