This Date's Issues: 4135
Johnson's Russia ListReturn to CDI's Home Page I Return to CDI's Library
27 February 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Putin Urges Approval of Arms Treaty.
2. Reuters: Russian reporter charged after reappearance.
3. Novaya Gazeta: Boris Kagarlitsky, Why Oligarchs Will Not Rise
In Defense of Democracy.
4. John Dunlop: War Crimes.
5. APN: Maxim Dianov, We will take a roundabout road. How to turn
Russia into a centralised state.
6. Excerpt from US State Department Human Rights Report on Russia.
7. Andrei Liakhov: On Dissidents.
8. Moskovsky Novosti: George Soros, Berezovsky. Putin. West. Bitter Thoughts with Faith in Russia.]
Putin Urges Approval of Arms Treaty
February 26, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - Acting President Vladimir Putin urged Russian parliament
leaders Saturday to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty, which
lawmakers have balked at approving since it was signed in 1993.
Putin discussed the treaty during a three-hour meeting with the party leaders
in parliament, and urged them to hold debate on START II at this spring's
session, Russian news reports said.
Leaders of two of the parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, have
said they would support ratification.
The Communists, parliament's largest party, long frustrated Boris Yeltsin by
refusing to approve it, saying it threatens Russia's security. But the
Communists lost several allies in parliament in December elections, and the
pro-government party Unity won the second-largest number of seats,
encouraging hopes for START-II ratification.
The accord halves U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to 3,000 to 3,500
warheads each. It was signed by both countries' presidents in 1993 and
ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996.
Putin and the parliament leaders also discussed Chechnya. Putin reiterated
that peace talks were unlikely because there were no feasible Chechen
negotiating partners, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The meeting also addressed introducing open land sales - seen as a key stage
in democratic reforms - and the beleaguered Russian military.
Putin is the clear front-runner among 11 candidates for March 26 presidential
elections. He launched his election campaign Friday with promises to build a
strong state, combat crime, streamline the government and lower taxes.
Russian reporter charged after reappearance
By Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A Russian reporter for a U.S.- funded radio, whose
disappearance in Chechnya caused widespread concern, faced a possible jail
sentence on Saturday after being detained with a false passport by police in
Officials in Dagestan, which adjoins Chechnya, told Russian television in the
regional capital Makhachkala that police had detained Andrei Babitsky of
Radio Liberty for carrying a passport issued in the name of Azerbaijani
citizen Ali Musayev.
He was detained on Friday, but was allowed to telephone his wife Lyudmila to
tell her he was alive and well after a mystery absence of more than a month.
It was the first time Babitsky, 35, had been in direct touch with the outside
world since Russian authorities announced earlier this month that he had been
handed over to the Chechens in exchange for several Russian soldiers they
Russia's main spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, told Interfax news
agency Babitsky was under criminal investigation. If found guilty of forging
documents, he could face up to two years in jail, he said.
Dagestani Deputy Interior Minister Magomed Omarov quoted Babitsky as telling
investigators he did not know who took him from Chechnya to Makhachkala
because they wore masks and prevented him seeing which route they were
But a security guard in a Makhachkala hotel, where Babitsky was detained, did
not mention any black masks when describing two men who accompanied Babitsky
in an interview with state-run RTR television.
RTR said that according to their information the Chechens tried to smuggle
Babitsky into neighbouring Azerbaijan a day before he was detained.
BABITSKY SHOWS NO SIGN OF MALTREATMENT
Babitsky's reports from Chechnya, which were critical of the military
campaign, angered Moscow.
Russian forces captured him last month when he tried to escape the Chechen
capital Grozny, then held by the rebels. Officials later said Babitsky agreed
to be swapped for the Russian soldiers, but Chechen commanders denied
knowledge of the exchange.
RTR showed television footage of Babitsky being questioned by police and
charged with carrying a false passport. He looked fit but nervous.
Babitsky said that on January 31 a person, who described himself as an
officer of the government commission on prisoners of war but did not give his
name, approached him at a detention camp where he was held after his arrest.
``He explained to me that Chechen field commander Turpalali Atgeriyev... had
said the Chechen side was ready to swap me for Russian servicemen,'' Babitsky
said. ``He asked me whether I was ready for such swap.
``I thought for 10 minutes and then agreed because I knew Turpal Atgeriyev.
Besides the man told me that Atgeriyev had promised to free me immediately
after the swap.''
Earlier on Saturday, Radio Liberty Dagestan correspondent Oleg Kusov who was
allowed to talk to Babitsky in police custody, told NTV television the
reporter had changed his mind at the last minute when he realised he was
being handed to masked men, which made him doubt the nature of the deal.
The swap went ahead anyway.
Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russian prosecutors as saying Babitsky still
faced investigation over his alleged support for the Chechen rebels. Radio
Liberty has denied the allegations.
Radio Liberty and its sister Radio Free Europe were founded in the Cold War
era to provide news from a Western source to east Europeans living under
February 24, 2000
Novaya Gazeta, No. 7
Why Oligarchs Will Not Rise In Defense of Democracy
[translation for personal use only]
The Enemy Image
For ten years now, liberal intellectuals have been frightening the public
and each other by the prospect of a communist restoration. As a matter of
fact, most of our cultural and journalistic elite existed in quite
reasonable conditions under the communists. True, they encountered obstacles
in their work, but in reality already for a long time there was no
totalitarianism to speak of. There is no place for a perestroika under
totalitarianism. It was just that the nightingales of perestroika, who later
went on to glorify the liberal reforms, needed an enemy image. Communists
were the most suitable candidates for such a role - since no one was able to
forget about Stalinist purges.
The enemy image turned out to be so scary that the intellectuals gradually
began to take it seriously and got scared themselves. This was a time when
one could forgive everything to the powers-that-be for the sake of struggle
against the frightening specter of the "totalitarian revenge". In 1993,
those same individuals who now exclaim "Democracy in danger" welcomed the
violation of the Constitution and the shelling of the parliament. Those
voices that now warn us against the imposition of censorship, recently
encouraged the prohibition of the "red" periodicals.
It is true that the real danger always comes from somewhere else rather than
from where it is expected to come. But this is only a part of the problem.
The chief misfortune is that the advent of authoritarianism in post-Soviet
Russia was prepared and endorsed right by those people who still label
themselves as "democrats". Now they complain about the forced unanimity in
the media. But wasn't the "democratic" press equally unanimous in the early
1990s, when one could not say a word of critique against Yeltsin and the
reformers without being stigmatized as "an enemy of democracy"? At that
time, TV indoctrinated us with propaganda cliches, raising the specter of a
Of course, in 1991-93 there was communist press as well, but it did not
reach anyone beyond communists themselves. The Supreme Soviet needed its own
outlet to inform society about the existence of non-communist political
forces that did not aspire to a reversal to the past but were still at odds
with government policies. Today, it is a matter of fact that virtually all
warnings issued in 1992-93 by economists close to the Supreme Soviet turned
out to be right. The development of the country went along the path of an
oligarchic, periphery-type capitalism, led to de-industrialization and to
the aggravation of societal contradictions. In 1993, this was no less
obvious than today. If the critics of reforms would have been able to reach
wider audience, many things would have been different now. But in 1992-93
deputies of the parliament were not given this chance - instead, they were
tagged with the enemy image.
In 1993, the authorities dared for the first time to trespass the law and to
spill blood. All this was met with applause by liberal public opinion. Who
if not the liberals were arguing that the Constitution can be violated for
the sake of political efficiency, who was justifying the violent dispersal
of citizens in front of the Ostankino TV center, who was so exuberant at the
look of the White House in flames?
After the shelling of the parliament, liberal intelligentsia
enthusiastically endorsed the authoritarian Constitution of 1993, which was
by every standards a step back from the 1991-92 legislation. Not only did
the Yeltsin-era Basic Law make the government and the president
unaccountable to other institutions, it also subordinated the Constitutional
Court to them, which put an end to the independence of the judiciary.
Meanwhile, the parliament was reduced to the political scenery, with a
The first Chechnya war was a logical extension of the shelling of the White
House. Indeed, if you can shoot at the parliament in Moscow, why on earth
you shouldn't be able to bomb Dudayev's palace in Grozny? Why can't you kill
civilians in Chechnya if it was acceptable to do in the nation's capital? In
what regard are the Chechen guerillas superior to the"red militants" that
were the object of such a scare in 1993?
Our human right activists themselves encouraged the authorities to violate
laws and to crack down on dissent. And it never came to their minds that
the "reds", being in minority, are entitled to all the same human rights as
everybody else. <...> Even if nostalgic communists are not on the side of
democracy, they remain citizens of the country and they must be protected by
law. Liberal intelligentsia, having got rid of Soviet censorship, wanted to
ignore the voices of all those who suffered under the new post-Soviet
system. As a result, it accepted responsibility for all the new misdeeds.
In 1996, hysterical propaganda resumed. <...> Unlike in 1993, attempts to
scare people with the prospect of Zyuganov's rule could not be accounted for
by the novelty of the situation and by misunderstanding. By that time,
leaders of the resurrected communist party were completely integrated into
the Yeltsin regime and given access to the same sources of profit and perks
as everybody else. In 1996, the fear was not about the return of the
communists - it was the fear of unpredictability, that always goes along
with democracy. It was the idea of letting the people make their own choice
that was dreadful. Of course, the vote had to take place, but choices were
to be made elsewhere and by other constituencies. Thus, the 1996 elections
in fact provided no alternative - especially if one takes into account hints
that in case of an unacceptable outcome a civil war might begin.
In the light of all this, were the 1996 elections any better than the
present ones? In a sense, they were worse - due to the assistance from
liberal intelligentsia to the authorities on a mass scale. In the words of
one editor in chief, in 1996 "we locked our conscience into a coffer for the
election period." It turns out that they lost the key from the coffer. <...>
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000
From: John Dunlop <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: War Crimes
Yesterday evening the BBC World News broadcast the same footage concerning
recent Russian war crimes in Chechnya as was shown on NTV (JRL 4132). Some
footage not shown on NTV, taken by the same German cameraman (Frank Hofling
of N24 TV), was broadcast as well. The BBC would not have shown the
footage if it were not convinced of its authenticity.
The BBC showed Russian soldiers rounding up Chechen civilians in a
settlement near Grozny and then taking them to a filtration point. A young
boy, who appeared to be about sixteen, was shown being interrogated.
Although he claimed not to be a fighter, he was shown being locked up in a
small, heavily crowded cell together with other young Chechens. His fate
The BBC then proceeded to broadcast the same footage that was shown on NTV:
a corpse being booted off the back of a military vehicle; an open shallow
mass grave containing a number of dead Chechen men with their hands tied
behind their backs; a Chechen corpse being dragged by the ankles behind
another military vehicle. It was reported that some of the men in the mass
grave had been tortured and that at least one had had his ears cut off.
The BBC journalist noted that some of the Russian soldiers had known they
were being filmed but, disgusted with their orders to commit atrocities,
they had done nothing to prevent the German cameraman from documenting the
crimes. A good sign! But what are we to think of those who issued the
25 February, 2000, 18:20
We will take a roundabout road
How to turn Russia into a centralised state
Director general, Institute of Regional Problems
Recently propositions to make a radical reform of federal structure of the
Russian State are pronounced more and more often. Most experts share an
opinion that a current asymmetric form of the Russian Federation’s structure
leads to «gradual confederation». They suggest that the Constitution should
be changed in a way to level the status of all regions and appoint their
leaders, but senators, quite the reverse, should be elected.
All of it makes sense to a certain extent but I never met proposals how
exactly to make it the reform of that kind happen. The fact is that the
Constitution may be changed only with the support of regional leaders or, at
the least, under condition of no active counteraction from their side.
In particular, it concerns federal structure stipulated by Chapter 1 of the
Constitution. This Chapter can not be altered through making amendments but
only through the change of the Constitution at large. The majority of
governors will sabotage this action. It is possible to hold referendum but it
can not secure success for the federal center.
Thus, it is possible to realise this move – appoint regional leaders by the
federal center – only in a «roundabout way». For instance, by means of
precedent, that is to elect two or three weak governors whose names have not
become familiar yet, and whose regions have low living standard and dismiss
them by a presidential decree.
It is advisable their sins do not provoke undesirable emotions in their
colleagues: he has been dismissed today, and to-morrow I will be kicked off
for the same reason. After dismissal the federal center should wait and see
what senators are going to do. At any rate the corporation remains strong
till it is unified. But there are different interests present even in the
corporation like Federation Council, and this should be used.
In order to neutralise a negative reaction it is necessary to take this
decision before a long break in the work of the Federation Council, for
instance, before the summer vacation or at the height of sowing campaign when
governors have no time to think about anything else and are more dependent on
the center (fuel, machinery).
In 1996, the Federation Council`s reaction was negative when Yeltsin
dismissed two administration heads. At that time dismissed heads were
persuaded not to make a row. At present such a decree could be a test to see
how the situation has changed and to «ram these resignations through» by a
precedent if it works.
It is possible to try to change the Constitution in a way when administration
heads are appointed with an approval of the federal center and regional
legislation assemblies. It will help the center turn lawmakers (who are not
satisfied with their non-essential, secondary position in the Federation
Council) into allies and will provide half of votes as minimum.
The weak spot of this scenario is that there are few legislation assembly
heads left who are independent on governors. Last year alone 8 local Duma
chairmen which were considered independent on administration heads resigned.
There is the third scenario – natural. To realise this scenario it is
necessary to wait three more years. In 2003, second tenure of regional heads
expire. The most of Charters and Constitutions of subjects of the Russian
Federation stipulate that their leaders are elected only for two tenures.
After that governors have two ways: try to change the Constitution that can
provoke active counteraction from the side of both local elite and federal
center or agree with a change in the Russian Basic law and appointment of
governors on the condition they will be get these posts.
Whether they will try the first way will be clear already in the middle of
2001 when Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev`s second tenure expires.
1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000
Politically, economically, and socially, Russia continues to be a state in
transition. While constitutional structures are well defined and democratic
in conception, democratic institution building continues to face serious
challenges, often due to significant limitations on the State's financial
resources. The 1993 Constitution establishes a government with three branches
and checks and balances, although it provides for a strong executive. The
executive branch consists of an elected president and a government headed by
a prime minister. There is a bicameral legislature (Federal Assembly),
consisting of the State Duma and the Federation Council, and a judicial
branch. Both the President and the legislature were selected in competitive
elections judged to be largely free and fair, with a broad range of political
parties and movements contesting offices. President Boris Yeltsin was elected
in 1996, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took office in August. A more
centrist-leaning Duma was elected on December 19 in elections that were
judged by international observers to be largely free and fair, although
preelection manipulation of the media was a problem. On December 31,
President Yeltsin resigned and Prime Minister Putin became Acting President.
A presidential election is scheduled for March 2000. The judiciary, although
still seriously impaired by a lack of resources and corruption, has shown
signs of limited independence.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Security Service (FSB),
the Procuracy, and the Federal Tax Police are responsible for law enforcement
at all levels of government throughout the Russian Federation. The FSB has
broad law enforcement functions, including fighting crime and corruption, in
addition to its core responsibilities of security, counterintelligence, and
counterterrorism. The FSB operates with only limited oversight by the
Procuracy and the courts. The military's primary mission is national defense,
although it has been employed in local, internal conflicts for which it was
prepared inadequately, and is available to control civil disturbances. More
recently, internal security threats in parts of the Russian Federation have
been dealt with by militarized elements of the security services. These same
organizations are tasked with domestic law enforcement. Many members of the
security forces, particularly within the internal affairs apparatus,
continued to commit human rights abuses.
The economy has performed better than expected following the August 1998
financial crisis and the sharp devaluation of the ruble. Industrial
production reached its 1997 level again in March and continues to grow. Gross
domestic product (GDP) growth for the year was estimated at 1.5 percent,
substantially higher than previously expected. At year's end, GDP was
estimated at $75 billion (1.84 trillion rubles) for the first 6 months of the
year. GDP per capita for the first 6 months of the year was $85 (2,086
rubles) per month. The inflation rate for the first 11 months of the year was
34.8 percent and was not expected to exceed 40 percent by year's end. Growth
in industrial production is aided by high world prices for commodities such
as oil, gas, and nickel. The ruble's devaluation also has given domestic
producers a significant cost advantage over imported goods. However, greatly
reduced domestic demand limits the scope of economic recovery. Real incomes
shrank significantly during the year, and wage arrears continued to increase.
Average wages were $66 (1,717 rubles) per month in October 1999, compared
with $68 (1,123 rubles) per month in October 1998. Real consumer spending is
still 11 percent below the 1997 average. Lack of investment also inhibits
sustained economic growth. Although the ruble devaluation in August and
September 1998 made Russian assets inexpensive, foreign investment has not
increased. Domestic investment is being funded mainly from retained earnings.
The ailing banking system also hampers domestic investment. The 1998 crash
reduced the total assets in commercial banks by 52 percent. The public is
wary of the private banking system, preferring to keep its money in
state-owned Sberbank, where deposits have grown by 50 percent. The government
statistics office estimates that the informal economy--barter and hidden
commercial activity designed to avoid heavy tax and regulatory
burdens--accounts for 24 percent of GDP. However, other authoritative sources
believe it to be much higher. Corruption continues to be a dominant, negative
factor in the development of commercial relations. Official unemployment was
11.7 percent in October, but actual unemployment was estimated at
approximately 23 percent, with significant regional variation.
The Government's human rights record remained uneven, and worsened in some
areas. Government forces killed numerous civilians through the use of
indiscriminate force in Chechnya, and security officials' beatings resulted
in numerous deaths. There were credible reports--and government officials
admitted--that law enforcement and correctional officials tortured and
severely beat detainees and inmates, and government forces reportedly raped
civilians following the battle for the Chechen town of Alkhan-Yurt. Prison
conditions continue to be extremely harsh and frequently are life
threatening. According to human rights groups, between 10,000 and 20,000
detainees and prison inmates die in penitentiary facilities annually, some
from beatings, but most as a result of overcrowding, inferior sanitary
conditions, disease, and lack of medical care. The Government has made little
progress in combating abuses committed by soldiers, including "dedovshchina"
(violent hazing of new recruits). Military justice systems consistent with
democratic practices remain largely underdeveloped. During the year, the
military procuracy reported decreases in the number of reported crimes and
hazing incidents. Existing laws on military courts, military service, and the
rights of service members often contradict the Constitution, federal laws,
and presidential decrees, elevating arbitrary judgments of unit commanders
over the rule of law. There were reports of military officers and units
sending soldiers to the front lines in Chechnya as punishment instead of
using the military justice system. Such incidents reportedly were being
investigated by military procurators.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remain problems. Police and other security
forces in various parts of the country continued their practice of targeting
citizens from the Caucasus and darker-skinned persons in general for
arbitrary searches and detention on the pretext of fighting crime and
enforcing residential registration requirements. Police corruption also
remains a problem. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem.
Institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs have begun to educate
officers about safeguarding human rights during law enforcement activities
through training provided by other countries, but remain largely unreformed
and have not yet adopted practices fully consistent with standards of law
enforcement in a democratic society. While the President and the Government
have supported human rights and democratic practice in statements and policy
initiatives, they have not institutionalized the rule of law required to
protect them. Most abuses occur at lower levels, but government officials do
not investigate the majority of cases of abuse and rarely dismiss or
discipline the perpetrators.
The Government made little progress in the implementation of constitutional
provisions for due process, fair and timely trial, and humane punishment. In
addition, the judiciary often was subject to manipulation by central and
local political authorities and was plagued by large case backlogs and trial
delays. However, there were indications that the law is becoming an
increasingly important tool for those seeking to protect human rights.
Nonetheless, serious problems remain. For example, the case of Aleksandr
Nikitin, a retired Soviet Navy captain and environmental reporter, continued
to be characterized by serious violations of due process, and there are
credible charges that the FSB's case against him was politically motivated.
St. Petersburg judge Sergey Golets found Nikitin not guilty on charges of
treason and espionage in December after the FSB for the eighth time filed
espionage charges against Nikitin in July. Authorities continued to infringe
on citizens' privacy rights. Government technical regulations that require
Internet service providers to invest in equipment that enables the FSB to
monitor Internet traffic caused serious concern. While the Government
generally respected freedom of the press, significant systemic problems
persisted, and there were continued reports of government pressure on the
media. Private media, which flourished through the first half of 1998, came
under increasing stress in the months after the August 1998 financial crisis.
Faced with major financial difficulties, many media organizations saw their
already tenuous autonomy erode during the year. Federal, regional, and local
governments continued to exert pressure on journalists by: Selectively
denying access to information (including, for example, statistics
theoretically available to the public) and filming opportunities; demanding
the right to approve certain stories prior to publication; prohibiting the
tape recording of public trials and hearings; withholding financial support
from government media operations that exercised independent editorial
judgment; attempting to unduly influence the appointment of senior editors at
regional and local newspapers and broadcast media organizations; and removing
reporters from their jobs and bringing libel suits against them. Foreign and
Russian journalists were frequent victims of kidnapings for ransom by
criminals in Chechnya and throughout the northern Caucasus.
The Federal Government took steps to mitigate the potentially discriminatory
effects of the 1997 religion law, and religious organizations, despite the
severe limitations of the beleaguered judicial system, are winning some
important court cases. By July religious groups reported that they were
reregistering their local organizations successfully, although problems
persisted in some regions. However, there are numerous reports that religious
organizations either were denied registration or experienced long delays in
reregistration, as local authorities sought to obstruct the activities of
religious groups. On November 23, the Constitutional Court upheld the
provision of the 1997 religion law that requires religious organizations to
prove 15 years of existence in the country in order to be registered.
However, the Court also ruled that religious organizations that were
registered before the passage of the 1997 religion law are not required to
prove 15 years' existence in the country in order to be registered. Religious
organizations and human rights experts have suggested repeatedly that the law
be amended to extend the period for reregistration, to prevent a scenario in
which a large number of religious organizations are left unregistered and
therefore legally vulnerable to closure by court order after year's end. No
extension was implemented as of December 31. While the Federal Government
promised to implement measures to discourage local authorities from
attempting to close unregistered religious organizations, critics of the law
fear that at least some religious organizations may be forced to close.
Discriminatory practices at the local level are attributable to the increased
decentralization of power, as well as to government inaction and
discriminatory attitudes that are held widely in society. In addition, some
regional governments have passed laws and decrees since 1994 that restrict
the activities of minority religious groups, some of which have been subject
to harassment as a result. Societal discrimination, harassment, and violence
against members of religious minorities remained a problem. Although there
were improvements in some areas, there were continued reports of religious
violence in the Northern Caucasus and several serious anti-Semitic incidents.
Despite constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of movement, the
Government places some limits on this right, and some regional and local
authorities (most notably the city of Moscow) restrict movement through
residence registration mechanisms. These restrictions, though successfully
challenged in court, remain largely in force and are tolerated by the Federal
Government. The presence of these restrictions, which increased following
terrorist bombings in September, demonstrated the continued obstacles to the
enforcement of judicial rulings. In September Moscow authorities expelled
some 500 residents of the Caucasus from the city.
Government human rights institutions are still weak and lack independence but
are becoming more active. Although Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov was
not known previously for expertise in human rights, he has taken an
increasingly active and public role in promoting human rights, speaking out
on the religion law, the rights of psychiatric patients, and electoral
rights. Mironov has established an office with 150 staff members, who are
responsible for investigating human rights complaints and promoting human
rights education. Activists report that the Presidential Human Rights
Commission, chaired by Vladimir Kartashkin, was relatively inactive during
the year. With few exceptions, human rights nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) documented and reported on human rights violations without
governmental interference or sanctions. However, some local officials
harassed human rights monitors and, in some cases, arrested them. Violence
against women, trafficking in women and young girls, and abuse of children
remain problems, as does discrimination against women and religious and
ethnic minorities. There are some limits on worker rights, and there were
reports of instances of forced labor.
Chechen separatists also committed abuses, including the killing of
The 1997 Khasavyurt Accord established an uneasy peace in Chechnya following
the 1994-96 conflict. However, on August 8, the status quo was broken when
armed groups from Chechnya carried out an insurgent raid on neighboring
Dagestan. Deadly terrorist bombings throughout Russia, allegedly the work of
Chechens, were cited by the Government along with insurgent attacks in
Dagestan as justification to launch a brutal assault on Chechnya to reassert
federal control. Russian troops launched a full-scale attack on Chechen
separatists in Chechnya starting in September, shelling cities, killing
numerous civilians, and displacing hundreds of thousands of persons.
On February 3, Chechen republic president Maskhadov announced the suspension
of constitutional law and declared a state of Islamic Shari'a law in the
region. According to press reports, a shura (council) of prominent figures
came into being on February 10 to help oversee Shari'a law. In the process,
the Maskhadov government stripped the region's legislature of most of its
responsibilities and abolished the region's vice presidency....
From: "Andrei Liakhov" <email@example.com>
Subject: On Dissidents
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000
Although my reply to Jaworsky does not concern the JRL as a Russia
publication, I think one comment of his deserves to be counter commented on
in public, i.e. his comments about Radio Liberty before the collapse of the
USSR (my comments are limited solely to that period as things have changed
greatly since then and RL/RFE has become a reputable broadcasting
organisation which is sometimes brutally honest and has some of the best
journalists around as staff (A.Babitsky is just one of those)).
However at that time (late 70ies - early 80ies) Radio Liberty was never
listened to as widely as it purported for a number of reasons, of which the
following seem to be the main ones - (i) it was very successfully jammed
(believe me I tried to listen to it in late from '76 to '82 with almost no
success despite use of various semi pro antijamming devices) (ii) the
quality of programmes and presentation style were very often extremely poor
and to a lot of people inside the former USSR RL sounded offensive, racist
and prejudiced (unlike the BBC and VoA which had a much wider audience, but
relatively rarely cited samizdat); it was sometimes obsessed with just
freedom of Jewish immigration to the exclusion of all other topics; and (iv)
was not considered a reliable source of information as it relied on rumours
too strongly. As a funny example showing how desperate they were for hot
news at some point - a friend of mine wrote to RL and two or three months
later when we were both on hitchhiking holiday in Crimea we heard on the RL
that he was under arrest and confined to a psychiatric hospital and that his
mother confirmed this to "a reliable source"! Needless to say that this
never happened and his mom never spoke to anybody. I swear it's true!!
Berezovsky. Putin. West.
By George Soros, financier and philosopher
Bitter Thoughts with Faith in Russia
[Translation by Olga Kryazheva, Research Assistant
Center for Defense Information
In 1996, I made a decision to take part in an auction of “Svyazinvest”,
state telephone holding company. It was painful to make it. I knew of
all-penetrating Russian corruption. It would have been easier for me to
limit myself to charitable activities and not soil my hands, but I thought
Russia needed foreign investments even more than it needed charity. And if
Russia is not able to move from predatory to lawful capitalism, all my
philanthropy was in vain. That is why I decided to step down from my Olympus
and participate in the auction on “Svyazinvest,” which I won. This was one
of the true auctions, in which the state was not deceived. Although the
price was high, a little above $2 billion, almost half of which was covered
by my funds, I considered it a profitable investment if the transition to
lawful capitalism was the case.
Unfortunately, in reality everything happened differently. This auction
became the foreword to the brutal fight of the oligarchs, which turned into
a criminal engagement. Some oligarchs were ready for changes,
whereas others opposed them, because they did not know how to act legally.
The main opponent was Boris Berezovsky. He threatened to explode the
situation, if he would not get what was promised. So he did it. He and I
had several sincere conversations, but I did not manage to make him change
his mind. I told him that he is rich, that his fortune equals billions on
paper. His main possession was “Sibneft”, one of the world’s largest oil
companies. All he needed to do was strengthen his position. If he could
not do it by himself, he could have involved with investment banks. He
that I did not know what I was talking about. It was not the question of
wealth. It was the question of his hierarchical position in relation to
Chubais and other oligarchs. They made a deal and had to fulfil its
conditions. He had to annihilate, or he would have been annihilated.
Soon I became a witness of the historical event, in the reality of which I
would have never believed, if I had not watched it myself. I saw a fight of
the people in the boat floating towards the edge of a waterfall.
Berezovsky, starting a blackmailing campaign, revealed the fact Chubais
received $90,000 for the unwritten book, which in reality was a fee paid by
oligarchs for his leadership in Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. This
victory weakened Chubais and took his attention from business. Tax
collection, the activity that demanded his particular attention, weakened.
In the moment when the consequences of the Asian crisis started to be
revealed, the events in Russia took a dangerous course. They climaxed in
Russia’s default of internal debt in August 1998, which shocked
international financial markets.
For the Russian economy consequences of this default turned out to be less
destructive than it could have been expected at that time. The Ministry of
Finances default on the obligations eased the budget conditions; the oil
prices growth helped to improve the financial and trade balance; and the
devaluation led to the increasing demand for national products. After the
first shock caused by the collapse of the banking system, the economy
reached the lowest mark and began to recover. Banks and oligarchs had
serious losses, but during one year Russia’s GNP exceeded the one before the
crisis. Even foreign investors recognized the schemes of economy regulation
that were offered to them profitable.
The developments in the political and social situations were less
satisfactory. According to Boris Berezovsky’s advice, Yeltsin’s family was
looking for a successor capable of defending it after elections. The
successor was found in Vladidmir Putin…
Putin’s rapid raise from non-existence oddly recalled Yeltsin’s
reelection in 1996. Boris Berezovsky’s style is noticeable in both of these
campaigns. I know this person very well. First time we met was when he
donated $ 1.5 million to the International Scientific Fund. An executive
director of this fund, Alex Goldfarb, introduced us. (This was the project
that made it possible to support 40,000 Russian scientists and
proved that international aid could be effective.) Then we met at the
World Economic Forum in Davos in January of 1996, where we had our
conversation that later became famous. Boris Berezovsky later stated that
this very conversation induced him to create a group working on Yeltsin’s
reelection. In 1996, we sincerely discussed the election campaign course of
I started to understand his manner of actions. I was not surprised, when
his assistant Chubais was caught at the White House exit with $200,000 in
cash. We became rivals during the “Svyazinvest” auction but we continued
to chat. I tried to prove to him the benefits of the lawful capitalism as
oppose to criminal capitalism. He tried to use me in the struggle for the
director position of “Gasprom”, the most powerful commercial structure in
Russia. In June 1997, he invited me to the meeting with Chernomyrdin in
Sochi, from where he flew me to Moscow on his personal plane. He informed
me that Chubais and Nemtsov support his candidacy. I did not believe him
and asked Nemtsov about it. The later heard about it for the first time.
“After I am dead,” that was his reaction. Later, I had a dinner with
Berezovsky in the “club” that either by coincidence or on purpose was
decorated in the Hollywood Mafia movies style. I was the only guest. I did
not tell him Nemtsov’s exact words, but mentioned that I asked him that
question, and Nemtsov stated that he did not know anything about
Berezovsky’s claims of “Gazprom” director position. Berezovsky got mad,
which made me have goosebumps. I felt like he is ready to kill me. He did
not say it, but made it clear that I had betrayed him. This was the turning
point of our relations. As before, we still saw each other and talked.
Once Berezovsky flew to New York just to talk to me. But since that moment
I tried to distance myself from him.
As I have already said, the fight between oligarchs, specifically the
conflict between Berezovsky and Chubais, represents an exotic historical
even, but not as exotic as Putin’s promotion as a successor of Yeltsin.
Berezovsky views the world through the prism of his personal interests. He
easily confronts them to Russia’s future. He sincerely believed that he
and other oligarchs paid for Yeltsin’s reelection, but the government
refused to fulfil the conditions of the deal, holding an honest auction on
He was going to fire Chubais because Chubais betrayed him. When I warned
him that by doing so he would pull the carpet under his feet, Berezovsky
replied that he did not have a choice: if he had demonstrated weakness,
he would not have survived. Back then I did not understand his words, but
as time went by they seemed absolutely logical. Berezovsky could not move
to lawful capitalism; his only chance for survival was creating a net
of illegal connections and involving all kinds of different people in it.
The dubious favors he did for the members of Yeltsin’s family can explain
his influence on Yeltsin. For example, he forwarded Aeroflot’s income to
the Swiss company Forus, the name that, if spelled in English, means “for
us”. This gave him a power over Yeltsin incomparable with influence of
other oligarchs. Berezovsky had blackmail on Chubais, too, and when the
situation became critical, he used it without doubt. $90,000 for an unwritten
book cost Chubais temporary dismissal.
This knowledge helps me analyze the current situation. Berezovsky and
Yeltsin’s family were seeking to secure their immunity, which they used
during Yeltsin’s administration. They used many means, a few of which
looked comical. Once Yeltsin, instigated by Berezovsky, informed the Duma
speaker about his intention to appoint Nikolay Aksenenko as the Prime
Minister, but after Chubais interference, Stepashin was officially
suggested to the Duma. Later S. Stepashin was fired. Berezovsky's position
became desperate after the money laundering scandal burst out in the USA; he
realized that there is no asylum for him in the West.
During the Sochi-Moscow flight Berezovsky bragged about bribing the field
commanders in Chechnya and Abkhazia. That is why, when Shamil Basayev
invaded Dagestan, I found this story suspicious. The indicator for me was
the answer to the following question: would Basayev withdraw his squadrons
by the time frame announced by Putin? He did. And even after that I can
hardly believe that apartment explosions in Moscow were the part of this
plan. This looks like an evil plot. This by itself would not have been a
unique case; Russian history is full of crime examples committed by
agents-provocateurs, from Azef to the Kirov’s murder, used to justify
Stalin’s purges. But if the explosions were this kind of event, they would
have been an unprecedented case.
Nevertheless, I can’t exclude this possibility. According to Berezovsky, it
would have looked logically. It would have given Berezovsky a means to
control Putin. We still don’t have any evidence capable of proving this
assumption wrong. During the first 1994-96 Chechen war Russia’s population
experienced the distractions and sufferings caused by invasion to Chechnya.
The speeches of soldiers’ mothers and law protectors like Sergey Kovalev
helped to bring about negotiations and settlement. This time the
population's response was completely different from the one five years ago.
There is no doubt that mostly Chechen terrorists are responsible for this
war. Their actions are beyond all frames. They kidnapped the members of
charitable organizations and journalists, demanded ransom for them, and
many times killed them. The Sarayevo rescuer Fred Cyuni had the same fate.
There are not many people remaining willing to deal with Chechens. This
public mood became an instrument of professional manipulations. The Russians'
changed attitude proves it.
When the process of revolutionary changes began, Russians thought
negatively of bloodshed. Similar cases were rare: in Tbilisi and
Lithuania, in October of 1993 during the parliament siege. However, every
time public moods turned against those who were guilty in bloodshed. Today
it is different.
There is a theory, according to which the victim of violence can easily
become a violator. Supposedly, this theory is true not just in case of
violent crimes, but is relevant to ethnic conflicts. During the long time
Serbs thought of themselves as victims, and Milosevic could have used
this feeling to implement ethnic cleaning policy. It looks like something
similar goes on in Russia.
Putin will try to restore the powerful state and can quite succeed in
doing so. In many aspects this development of events will be desirable. As
we can see from Russia’s experience, the weak state can be a threat to
freedom. This is of little effect to support the market economy, which
needs power setting the rules of the game. Succeeding in transition from
criminal to lawful capitalism, Putin can become an author of an economic
rebirth. Only then will my investments in Russia finally produce dividends.
But the state built by Putin will be hardly based on the principles of the
open society. It will continue to use the feeling of fear that emerged after
the apartment explosions. This state will try to establish its power over
the private life and struggle for world superiority of Russia. It will be
authoritarian and nationalistic. It is impossible to predict the
development of events, but it is also clear that the perspective, which
could have been avoided, if the Western free society followed the
principles of the free society, is emerging. In his farewell speech,
Yeltsin asked for forgiveness from Russians “that many hopes did not come
true, and for everything that seemed easy turned out to be painful. I ask
you to forgive me for not justifying the hopes of those people who believed
that by one step we could move from the gray totalitarian and stagnated
society to the light, rich, and civilized future. I myself believed in it.
In reality everything turned out to be different.”
Yeltsin did not say that he and many others believed in the West, but the
West did not justify their evidently excessive expectations. I can only
speak for myself. At first, I thought that Western government officials
just didn't understand the current situation. It was too good to be true and
needed to be checked.
They set a goal, and when Gorbachev reached it, they lifted it. As time
went by, they had to admit that the changes were considerable, but by that
time they lost any respect for Russia as a superpower. They started to treat
Russians as beggars. Due to the Nuss-Lugar law they found money for
nothing else but to support nuclear disarmament. I remember the story of
a Russian economist, who for five hours talked to the U.S. Secretary of State
James Baker unsuccessfully begging him for help. I remember that later
Gorbachev’s main assistant Alexander Yakovlev told me about humiliation he
felt during negotiations with Americans.
Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that the West does not care much about
the concept of the open to the rest of the world society. Otherwise, the
process of reforms would have been painful, with many mistakes and
disproportion, but at least it would have moved in a right direction.
Russia could have become the real democratic country and the real friend to
the United States, as it happened with Germany after the World War II and
executing the Marshall Plan. Today we are facing a different perspective.
I have not lost hope. My fund continues to actively operate in Russia.
I intend to continue the Fund’s
operation in Russia until it has people’s support and has conditions for
operation. Aspirations for the free society are the fire that even Stalin’s
terror methods could not destroy. I am sure this will not happen in
Russia, whatever the future is.