This Date's Issues: 4150 4151
Johnson's Russia ListReturn to CDI's Home Page I Return to CDI's Library
7 March 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Moscow Times: Jonas Bernstein, Dictated by Laws, or Nods?
2. AFP: Analysts see Putin talk of Russia joining NATO as "complete nonsense"
3. Ira Straus: Putin Joins NATO :)
4. The Times (UK) editorial: THE FIST UNCLENCHED. Putin prepares for
presidential dialogue with the West.
5. Reuters: Bolshoi chief fuels theatre's renaissance.
6. Nezavisimaya Gazeta - Stsenarii: After a Decade of Political Wrangle Russian Society Is Not Ready for Public Politics. Analytical
report compiled by Professor Yuri LEVADA, doctor of philosophy, director of the National Public Opinion Research
March 4, 2000
PARTY LINES: Dictated by Laws, or Nods?
By Jonas Bernstein
"Most residents of the Russian Federation believe that the problem has
become very acute, that corruption has reached unheard-of proportions."
"We are launching a full, head-on assault on crime, bribery and corruption."
"Organized crime has become a direct threat to Russian national interests
...Corruption in the organs of power and administration is literally
corroding the state body from top to bottom."
While the above quotes may sound familiar, you would need to have quite a
memory to recall them precisely, or even who uttered them. The first
comment was made on March 7, 1992 by then-Deputy Prime Minister Gennady
Burbulis (talk about a name from the "Where Are They Now?" file); the
second, on Oct. 8 of that year by then-President Boris Yeltsin; the third
was also Yeltsin's, from Feb. 12, 1993.
And so on, ad nauseum. Yeltsin and his rotating roster of minions would go
on to make myriad similar statements and promises during the ensuing seven
The reason for delving into the early days of Russia's post-Soviet history
is that acting President Vladimir Putin has picked his own riff - a
variation on Yeltsin's - to serve as the leitmotif for his own reign, which
now looks destined to last at least eleven years. Putin's theme, of
course, is the need for a "dictatorship of the law," as a way of ensuring
that "the rules apply equally to everyone."
As was the case with Yeltsin's anti-crime and anti-corruption pledges, it
already seems that the likelihood "a dictatorship of the law" will actually
come to pass is inversely proportional to the frequency with which the
promise is uttered. In fact, the past decade suggests that such slogans
and promises simply serve as a cover for keeping things they way they are.
So while Yeltsin and his various advisers repeatedly insisted that
corruption and crime were national security threats that needed to be
addressed directly, they often acted in ways that seemed at cross purposes
with their intentions. In early 1993, for example, shortly after Yeltsin
declared that corruption was "literally corroding the state body from top
to bottom," he fired Yury Boldyrev, then his chief corruption fighter, and
abolished his post, after Boldyrev asked to be allowed to probe corruption
in the armed forces and the Moscow city government.
This gap between rhetoric and reality appears to be holding today. Last
Friday, for example, saw the publication of Putin's open letter to voters,
in which he promised a strong state that would protect the economy from
"illegal intrusion, both bureaucratic and criminal," help the market to
"get on its feet" and establish equal conditions for all economic actors.
State institutions, Putin wrote, should not be used as instruments in
battles between clans or groups.
That same day, erstwhile aluminum kingpin Lev Chernoy confirmed that he had
sold off his Russian aluminium stakes, and various media reported that
companies controlled by Kremlin insiders Roman Abramovich and Boris
Berezovsky had bought "large stakes" in the Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk and
Novokuznetsk aluminum factories, as well as in the Achinsk Alumina Combine
and the Krasnoyarsk hydro-electric station. These purchases reportedly give
the two oligarchs control over 70 percent of Russia's aluminum industry.
Asked about the take-over, Putin claimed he had not known about it in
advance, but promised that the Anti-Monopoly Ministry would investigate.
As various observers have pointed out, if Putin - the acting head of state,
prime minister and fomer head of state security - knew nothing in advance
about the impending takeover of Russia's third-most lucrative industry, it
does not speak well for his competence. If he did know about the deal, then
he either approved it or was unable to block it. Correspondingly, the
positive spin that some people, like Boris Nemtsov, have given to the deal
- that Abramovich and Berezovsky rushed to buy up the aluminium business
out of fear of what Putin might do to them after March 26 - is most likely
wishful thinking. On the contrary: The aluminum buy-out was, as Moskovsky
Komsomolets's Alexander Budberg wrote Friday, "a declaration of confidence
Then there was this week's twist in the case of Radio Liberty's Andrei
Babitsky. After spending weeks in a filtration camp, being "exchanged" to
unknown Chechens and finally getting re-arrested in Dagestan - and only
then being allowed to see his lawyer - it was a nod from the acting
president that freed him from jail. That's the sort of outcome more
commonly seen in a dictatorship than a "dictatorship of law."
Analysts see Putin talk of Russia joining NATO as "complete nonsense"
BRUSSELS, March 6 (AFP) -
A suggestion by acting president Vladimir Putin that Russian might one day
join NATO is "complete nonsense," a western analyst said Monday, echoing
reactions ranging from silliness to scorn.
Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, whose country joined NATO a year
ago along with the Czech Republic and Hungary, called it "a dream."
"It's like an elephant trying to get into a bath tub," said Jonathan Eyal,
senior analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in
"At the end of the exercise there is not much left of the bathtub, and the
elephant doesn't get much of a bath," he said in a telephone interview.
Putin told the BBC Sunday he saw no reason why Russia could not some day
aspire to NATO membership, saying, "I wouldn't rule it out...It's hard for me
to visualize NATO as an enemy.
"It's a very nice way of thinking, but under the heading of dream or utopia,"
said Geremek, adding: "It would be magnificent if Russia was part of NATO,
since that would mean that NATO no longer had any reason to exist."
"It's complete nonsense," Eyal said of the notion of Russia in NATO. "It
beggars belief. I have not met one person, either in Moscow or in the West,
who seriously believes this will happen."
In Moscow, Gennady Zyuganov, Putin's main rival in elections this month that
Putin is generally expected to sweep, called the BBC interview "naive and
So why did Putin say it?
To "try to alleviate the sense of unremitting hostility that Russians often
express toward NATO," said Margot White, professor of international relations
at the London School of Economics.
"This was a placatory remark to the West," she said, "particularly given its
adverse reaction to what's been happening in Chechnya."
Eyal said its significance was that, "at a time when it is not domestically
fashionable in Russia to be friendly to the West, we've already got an olive
branch from Putin."
His IISS colleague, Russia expert Anatol Lieven, thought Putin was trying to
"show up the hypocrisy of NATO's supposed openness to everybody. It was a way
of making himself look more moderate and not anti-western. Of course, it had
no real content at all."
The statement, coming two weeks after NATO Secretary General George
Robertson's visit to Moscow, "was clearly an attempt by Putin to suggest he
is prepared to reciprocate...to show the cold war between Russia and NATO
that existed during the Kosovo crisis has now ended," said Eyal.
In fact, said Lieven, it was Putin who insisted on the Robertson visit over
the protests of the entire Russian defense ministry and a lot of people in
the foreign ministry.
"From that point of view," he said, the BBC remarks "make Putin look more
pragmatic than some of the real hardliners."
Robertson Monday "warmly welcomed" Putin's statement, saying NATO "recognizes
the need for partnership between the alliance and Russia," but that "Russian
membership is not on the agenda at present."
Eyal said Putin's remarks were also aimed at showing "NATO is not destined to
be seen as an enemy of Russia, and that Russia is not destined to be seen as
NATO's enemy," said Eyal.
"It is very popular to make anti-western statements in an election campaign
in Russia," he said. "It goes down well with the public. But Putin didn't do
that. He's confident he will win, and he's already thinking about the
after-March period when he will have to pick up the pieces."
"Putin is playing a very careful game here," said Eyal. "On the one hand he
continues to try to suggest that Chechnya is Russia's internal affair and
will continue unabated. On the other, he wants to limit the damage from this
war to his relations with the West."
From: IRASTRAUS@aol.com (Ira Straus)
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000
Subject: Putin Joins NATO :)
Putin Joins NATO
by Ira Straus
Ira Straus is U.S. Coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia
in NATO, www.fas.org/man/nato/ceern
Just when it seemed that all hope for decent Russia-NATO relations had been
destroyed, Putin has weighed in [on Sunday, March 5] with a call for deeper
integration between the two, up to and including Russian membership in NATO.
The West has yet to give a constructive response.
Putin is showing that his heart is mostly where the hearts of his mentors,
Sobchak and Yeltsin, were -- in the West, or at least, a West that includes
Putin has to be cautious in saying this. He has already been denounced for it
by the Communist candidate for President, Gennady Zyuganov.
The lack of a constructive Western response serves to validate Zyuganov's
point. Zyuganov called it "naive and unparadonable for a politician on his
Nevertheless, Putin ventured to say that Russia could join NATO -- "if and
when Russia's views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.''
He called for a ''more profound integration'' with NATO. "When we talk about
our opposition to NATO's expansion," he explained to David Frost, "its
attempts to exclude us from the process are what cause opposition and concern
on our part.'' He added that "Russia is a part of European culture ... what
we often talk about as the civilized world. Therefore, it is with difficulty
that I imagine NATO as an enemy."
This stands, inter alia, in contradiction to official Russian doctrine, which
says that Russia should be a free-floating power in a multipolar world,
connected to the East as much as to the West. Putin has officially repeated
the multipolarist doctrine, but now he has also contradicted it. There seem
to be two Putins (and two Russias). One would join the West if he could. The
other sticks to multipolarism as long as this seems to be the only viable
When Yeltsin and his first foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, made their
overtures for joining NATO, the Western response was that 'it is not excluded
that this could happen someday'. It was a cold shoulder, and it served to
discredit the best friends of the West in Moscow. There was no serious plan
in NATO for bringing Russia in as a member; the Committee on Eastern Europe
and Russia in NATO had to be formed independently, bringing together a former
CIA director with heads of Atlantic Councils and theorists of the pax
democratica, to develop an unofficial plan for doing this. There is still no
In 1991, Yeltsin's dramatic overture to NATO was put off as a dream,
something that no one in the West had thought about. Today few people are
dreaming any longer about close Russia-West relations; it is widely felt that
the possibility for Russia-in-NATO has passed. Yet the issue keeps rising
inexorably, as NATO keeps pressing onward and the Eastern Europeans keep
Yevgeny Primakov argued that the Yeltsin-Kozyrev overtures to NATO were
undermining Russian interests, by legitimizing NATO expansion to everywhere
that NATO had a serious plan for expanding, which meant everywhere except
Russia. Kozyrev came to be thoroughly discredited for his unsuccessful
Atlanticism; Primakov rose in his place, and "multipolarism" became official
Yeltsin was nevertheless able, in his last major act in power, to help Putin
rise in place of Primakov. Now Putin has renewed, gingerly, the discussion on
joining NATO, and called for "deeper integration" in the meanwhile.
Neither NATO nor the Russian leadership has any viable ideas on how to enable
this integration to come about in reality. Neither of them has any idea of
how to get Russia taken into account as an equal partner, without destroying
NATO in the process. On the contrary, fears are repeatedly expressed in NATO
that paying any serious attention to Russia's views would amount to giving it
a de facto veto and would destroy the alliance. Many Russians in turn say
that they want a veto, just like everyone else in NATO.
NATO has made of point of allowing Moscow a "voice" on mutual relations, but
it is a completely powerless voice, external to the main NATO discussion.
NATO has in practice run away from compromises with Moscow’s voice, for fear
that this would somehow turn the voice into a "de facto veto".
The result has been an impasse between "a voice" and "a veto". The
relationship is stuck on this impasse.
The two extremes of "voice" and "veto" are equally futile. They have served
as irritants in Russia-NATO relations: for Russians, the "voice" only rubs in
their impotence, while for NATO, the "veto" is a threat to the viability of
the alliance. Yet neither side has proposed a third way.
Any serious response to Putin will have to move beyond the voice-veto
extremes and find an intermediate term, such as a "vote".
In reality there is no legal right of veto in NATO at all. Alliance planning
is done by a variety of expedients. NATO decisions are published with a front
of unanimity and it is pretended that everyone has a right of veto, but the
actual decision is made by all the normal methods of political pressure and
aggregation. Weighted voting does not take place, but everyone understands
how much weight each country has and which voices have to be listened to
more. However, the formal end-process is still a rigid one: unanimity or
"consensus", compounded by the rhetorical assertions that each member has a
right of veto. This leaves no space for integrating Russia.
In other institutions, such as the IMF and the European Union, weighted
voting is officially used and is quite successful. NATO, the main alliance of
democracies, is at a lower democratic level in its procedures. Its formal
decision-rule is at a wildly unrealistic distance from its actual
NATO can open up the space it will need for integrating Russia as an ally,
but only if it opens up its procedures and makes its formal rules more
realistic. In that case, the Russia-NATO relationship would no longer be
condemned to futility. Until then, the only thing the West can offer Mr.
Putin is to explore the question seriously with him.
The Times (UK)
March 6 2000
THE FIST UNCLENCHED
Putin prepares for presidential dialogue with the West
The man virtually certain to capture Russia's presidency is revealing some
flexibility behind his dour demeanour. Vladimir Putin told Sir David Frost
yesterday that he could not rule out the possibility that Russia might one
day join Nato - provided it was treated as an equal partner. But although
Moscow is as far from applying as Nato is from considering such a
destabilising change, Mr Putin's remark is significant. Three weeks before
the election he has used his first BBC interview to send out conciliatory
signals to the West: under a Putin presidency, Russia will neither retreat
into isolation nor arm itself for a new Cold War.
Facing the opposition only of the Communists, a few liberals and a handful of
political unknowns, Mr Putin has little further need to bang the nationalist
drum. He has already demonstrated the toughness, determination and enough
force to capture Grozny, scatter his rivals and bring the Kremlin within his
grasp. He no longer needs to harness Russia's frustrations and humiliations
to his cause. The challenge now is to get Russia working again: to rein in
the oligarchs, stamp out corruption, relaunch the stuttering market reforms
and make himself undisputed master of his fractious country. For this he
needs time, guile and, above all, predictable and stable relations with the
Mr Putin knows that the Chechen war, the conflict that he used so cynically
to outflank his rivals, has inflicted serious damage on Russia's image and
relations with the West and the Muslim world. Goodwill, trust and
understanding have been replaced, on both sides, with suspicion, frustration
and the revival of Soviet-era attitudes. If he is to revive a measure of
co-operation, Mr Putin must halt this downward spiral. That is why he was at
such pains to assert yesterday that the military operations in Chechnya were
virtually over; that his wish for a strong and effective Russia in which its
citizens could feel secure had nothing to do with aggression; and that Russia
made no claim to hegemony over any part of the world.
Few Western leaders will accept his assertion that Russia has been intent
only on eliminating "bandits" from Chechnya or that reports of atrocities
were lies put out in a propaganda war. Mr Putin has to go a long way yet to
assuage the general revulsion at what his troops have been doing. But the
West should be encouraged by his insistence that Russia was not going to shut
itself off from the world, and that what it sought was not a confrontation
with Nato but a strategic partnership. Moscow's campaign against Nato
enlargement lay at the heart of the rift over Kosovo. But Mr Putin recognised
that even posing the question whether Nato was an enemy took both sides
straight back to the Cold War. What he wanted, he insisted, was "equitable
co-operation and partnership". That is a reasonable demand, and one that the
West would do well to bear in mind.
The Russian leader must also be concerned about his image. Back home, he
needs to play up the KGB background and the calculating, sober lifestyle of a
karate expert to distance himself from the Yeltsin years and convince
Russians that he is tough enough to take on organised crime. That same image
seems more sinister to Westerners accustomed to the big-hearted, if
inebriated, Yeltsin. Like Yuri Andropov, Mr Putin may have to show his
countrymen the iron fist if he is to make order a prerequisite of reform.
Russian liberals are already talking of dictatorship. The message yesterday
was that the West should not jump to such a conclusion.
Bolshoi chief fuels theatre's renaissance
By Karl Emerick Hanuska
MOSCOW, March 6 (Reuters) - The famed Bolshoi Theatre where Vladimir
Vasiliyev's dancing once wowed audiences now threatens to fall down around
The struggles and compromises of running a troubled arts company in
post-Soviet Russia are a far cry from the triumphs of life as an
international ballet star.
Reviews have gone from glittering to glowering -- a new version of ``Swan
Lake'' was panned as ``a banal family drama'' in feathers and far smaller
opera companies have upstaged Bolshoi productions panned as mediocre --
backstage intrigue has rivalled onstage drama, and money is a constant
``It seemed everything would be simple, especially as I know this theatre
inside-out after 40 years of being associated with it,'' said Vasiliyev,
general director of Russia's legendary Bolshoi Theatre.
``My plans gave me wings and I shared everything with everyone. I tried to
motivate everyone...However, things turned out completely differently.''
Hailed for decades as a powerhouse of ballet and opera, the Bolshoi has seen
its image badly tarnished in the last 10 years as it struggled with the
perennial funding problems that plague most of post-Soviet Russia's great
Scores of dancers and musicians have departed for better-paying positions
abroad. The theatre's majestic 19th century building has gone without
urgently needed renovation. Vasiliyev once warned dramatically that the
balcony might one day collapse.
Since assuming the theatre's top post five years ago, he has remained
steadfast in his commitment to bring about a renaissance at the Bolshoi.
``I'm an optimist. I believe that with perseverance and talent it is possible
to achieve anything,'' he said in an interview.
``No matter what the critics say, the main thing is to keep working. If one
is capable of working then everything is okay.''
A ``GREAT TEMPLE''
Meeting Vasiliyev in person it is hard not to share his optimism.
Just a month short of 60, he still sports a crop of blonde hair and moves
with the powerful grace of a dancer, radiating the charisma which won him
acclaim in roles like ``Spartacus.''
He repeatedly affirms his dedication to the theatre on whose stage he first
stepped as a child in 1948 and refers unabashedly to it as a ``great temple''
that ``shines with a brilliant light.''
Visitors to Vasiliyev's office, filled with stately Empire furniture and a
giant television, are put at ease with stories about his childhood, verses of
his poetry and refreshments he seems to pull from air.
Vasiliyev is the first to admit his move into the director's office was not
an easy one and says that had he known of all the problems lurking he might
have hesitated to take the job.
And while he says a government subsidy of $12 million a year is too little to
support the theatre and its staff of some 2,500, he notes that the toughest
problems he has had to tackle have not always been financial ones.
In 1995 Vasiliyev became the head of the Bolshoi, replacing its former chief,
the autocratic Yuri Grigorovich, who lost a behind-the-scenes struggle for
That struggle did not end after the ousting of Grigorovich -- whom even
admirers compared to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during his iron-fisted
Some in the theatre were openly hostile to the changes that Vasiliyev
introduced, such as exchanging the old jobs-for-life policy for a contract
system and updating the tired repertoire, much of which had been performed
unchanged for 25 years.
He also tightened control over use of the Bolshoi name after disastrous
``pirate'' tours with performers only remotely associated with the theatre
damaged its credibility.
``The main problem with this theatre is that everyone is great. Everyone who
comes to you in this office, with very few exceptions...thinks they are the
best,'' Vasiliyev said.
The result was a period when he dictated changes he wanted.
``I started pounding my fist on the table and said things will be this way or
that and not any other way. But now I've learned to be more tolerant,'' he
``The one thing I did in the beginning that I still do today is listen to
everyone. I try so that people don't leave frustrated with fists raised for a
fight, so they leave knowing I support them.''
CRITICS STILL SCEPTICAL
Not all of Vasiliyev's critics have been won over.
Some scoff at new additions to the repertoire, like George Balanchine's
modern ballets and performances by Boris Eifman's avant-garde troupe, which
they call inappropriate for the classic-oriented Bolshoi.
Vasiliyev's revision of the quintessential classic, ``Swan Lake,'' was panned
by one critic as ``a banal family drama packed in swans' feathers.'' The New
York Times blasted his plans to renovate the 144-year-old building as being
``Of course it is difficult to hear criticism, but you don't need to argue --
ever. The only way to convince someone you are right is with work. You have
to prove them wrong,'' he said.
``If someone thinks I'm a bad ballet master then I show them a second work
and another and another. That's the only way.''
Vasiliyev says packed performances prove that changes being made are for the
better and emphasises that he is dedicated to pleasing audiences and not
``Variety is very important for the Bolshoi because...as an academic theatre
we must collect completely different styles and different directions,'' he
said in defence of the new repertoire.
TRIUMPHANT LONDON VISIT
Lingering doubts about quality under Vasiliyev were dispelled during a London
trip last summer. The Daily Telegraph newspaper declared: ``Only the Bolshoi
can show such soul.''
Vasiliyev is equally emphatic about reconstruction plans that will cost at
least $200 million.
He secured the support of the U.N. cultural organisation UNESCO, which in
1993 adopted the theatre as a flagship project in Russia and will hold an
``International Day of Solidarity with the Bolshoi'' on March 28 -- the
troupe's 224th birthday.
But before reconstruction can begin the Bolshoi must find $72 million to
complete work on its second stage, located in a new building just off the
main theatre's western flank.
The new 1,000-seat theatre -- half the size of the older -- will house the
company while reconstruction work is carried out, and is eventually to be
dedicated to more modern works.
``The second stage is as necessary to us as air...But to date we can't even
say when we can move,'' Vasiliyev said, warning he might be forced to cancel
``In theory it's not a bad idea...You need to scare people so things happen
faster...but it would mean that we would never gather everyone back together
Nezavisimaya Gazeta - Stsenarii No. 2
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
JANUARY 2000: OPINIONS, SENTIMENTS
After a Decade of Political Wrangle Russian Society Is
Not Ready for Public Politics
Analytical report compiled by Professor Yuri LEVADA,
doctor of philosophy, director of the National Public Opinion
The first month of the year 2000 has been rich more in
appraisals and emotions concerning what is to happen in the
next few months than in new significant developments. In the
minds of the public at large the Yeltsin era is associated
mostly with negative trends. Small wonder, expectations
connected with its successors (in the broad sense of the word
which includes government and parliamentary institutions) are
based on contrasts.
As many as 56% of respondents polled last January believe
that now that Boris Yeltsin has stepped down from the throne,
the situation will change for the better and only 3% think that
it will change for the worse. The most frequent expectations
production growth - 31%, "stern order" - 26%; and unity of all
Duma factions behind Vladimir Putin - 15%. The most frequent
fears of the public are: possible price growth - 15% and
growing confrontation of Putin and the Duma - 11%. Such fears
as the growing influence of the military, the introduction of
censorship, and a deficit comeback were mentioned more rarely.
Government: Temperate Expectations, Serious
Sluggish government reshuffling which has taken place in
the past six months since Putin became Prime Minister did not
arouse any more or less serious or radical expectations among
It is interesting that the fantastically high rating of the
acting President had rather little influence on the appraisal
of his Cabinet's performance. As many as 79% of respondents
approved of Putin's actions in December 1999 and 80% (on
average, in a number of opinion polls) last January, while
approval rating of his Cabinet's work were 39% and 45%,
respectively. Furthermore, in January 47% said that the Putin
government worked better than the preceding government.
The number of counts of dissatisfaction with the
performance of the present Cabinet not only did not diminish
but even increased, compared with two months ago.
What are the main causes of the Russians' dissatisfaction
with their government?
November 1999 January 2000
Disability to cope with
growing inflation and a
fall of people's incomes ........ 25% 35%
Disability to overcome
the economic crisis ............. 20% 32%
protection ...................... 16% 29%
to cope with
unemployment .................... 18% 29%
The absence of a prudent
program to overcome the crisis ...14% 24%
Disability to ensure the
safety of people ................ 14% 18%
Corruption ...................... 3% 16%
Disability to cope with
terrorists ...................... 10% 11%
No ground for dissatisfaction ... 24% 7%
The above table shows once more that the high appraisal of
Putin by the public sooner refers to expectations than to his
performance at the head of Cabinet.
New Duma: A Transient Crisis or a Permanent Scandal?
Piercing squabbles in the newly elected Duma and around
it, which broke out after January 18, attracted great attention
but did not rouse much anxiety among opinion poll respondents.
Only 18% regard the split of parliament into "two camps" as a
serious and lasting circumstance, while the majority (52%) are
inclined to regard it as a short-lived happening which will
lose all significance in a couple of weeks. Less than a third
of respondents (31%) think the opposition bloc in parliament
comprising Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), the Union of Right
Forces (SPS) and Yabloko can become "an important political
force" but 41% reject such a possibility.
The reasons of such a calm and even sceptical attitude to
that situation can be explained by the fact that it proved to
be quite natural and even expected. The issue at hand is not a
temporary crisis but a permanent scandal laying bare the
innermost mainsprings and mechanism of the country's
parliamentary and general political reality. Crises arise and
are solved, while the mechanism remains. The above situation is
a scandal because it is the projection of an unnatural
subordination of representative authority to the orders and
wishes of executive authority and the formation of a new kind
of consensus, a new "mechanical solidarity" of some political
trends which either have had no time yet to become formalized
or have lost their face already.
The following is probably the most telltale figure to
explain the above point: 54% of respondents think that the new
Duma is "definitely" or "sooner" controlled by the President's
administration and only 27% believe that it remains (also
"definitely" or "sooner") independent. It is worth noting that
this circumstance does not arouse public protest: Russians have
elected the kind of Duma they wished to have. The parliamentary
elections were held after the presidential likes and dislikes
of the public had been determined and in their shade - against
the background of the waning or falling stars of political
Herein, rather than in the dispute over the division of posts
and committees, that the scandalous character of the situation
lies, first and foremost.
Some respondents think that it is communists who stood to
gain by the KPRF-Unity bloc, others that it was the Kremlin and
Putin, but no one believes that this was for the benefit of
democrats and democracy.
Linking the illusive multi-party structure of parliament
to administrative interests can be regarded as the Kremlin's
achievement. From now on it will be able to cause quarrels
between factions, reconcile them and, as the need arises, order
them around. Not all regard this as an insult. The communist
party was not so close to the wheel of power even in the happy
Primakov-Maslyukov period of government. Confrontation between
the Red and the regime, which was artificially inflated during
the previous election cycle (1995-1996), was no obstacle for
the former to vote obediently on all the critical points
(budgets, endorsement of premiers, etc.) No one has long been
remembering the "opposition" imitated by Vladimir Zhirinovsky
and his Liberal Democratic Party. The OVR has once again been
humiliated and knocked down by the administrative
"road-roller." Unity, also known as the Bears, is tamed by
The remaining are those who call themselves either the
right or, by habit, democrats: the "critical" Yabloko and the
pro-government SPS. The former have sustained losses in terms
of the size of their electorate and parliamentary faction. The
latter owe their success, first, to the withering away of their
inner definiteness (only 5% or 6% of those who voted for the
bloc previously supported Russia's Democratic Choice but the
majority of the present bloc's electorate do not trust either
the reforms or their architects) and, second, to their
unconditional support for the line of the favourite of the
current presidential election race. Parties often manage to
regain lost votes in the next election cycle but they are
unlikely to regain their lost political face, at least, during
the lifetime of the present political generation.
To judge by the results of the latest opinion polls, two
forces - communist and democratic sympathizers - dominate the
Russian political scene, while the other trends have a far
smaller following. Those who rank themselves among democrats
advanced to the fore for the first time last January with a
25-percent approval rating (compared with 23% for communists).
Seven percent of Russians support patriots and 5% - the "party
of power," 5% - the centrists and other political forces. The
rest either do not support any political trend or have
difficulty to answer this question. However, precisely the
events in and around the State Duma show how unclear and
old-fashioned distinctions between confronting trends have been
growing. It turns out that the present democratic followers
voted for sapless and incredibly pragmatic Bears last December.
Hence the dismal image of the Russian political scene which has
become deserted in the past decade.
But the gains of the regime are not as clear as they might
seem at first sight. Administratively managed democracy makes
the administration bear complete responsibility for all and
everything on a general political and parliamentary planes. If
there is no possibility to blame it all on the disobedient Duma
or inefficient government, the President and his Administration
have to take the blame. In addition, any "mechanical" unity
which is suitable for countering, say, parliamentary outsiders,
is not necessarily effective for adopting constructive
All Told, Everything Is O.K.
The assumption that the economic situation is improving,
which is widely spread, above all, in the sphere directly
bearing on the life of people - labour, payments, consumption -
has been one of the peculiarities of public sentiment and
appraisals early this year. Some improvements began in the
economic situation in the end of the crisis-stricken year of
1998, and each subsequent government claimed it was its merit.
Since late last autumn the issue at hand has been a sort of
mutual inductance of positive appraisals of the political line
and the economic situation (buttressed up by concrete measures
to reduce debts on pensions and wages to public-sector
employees, etc.) Last January, only 14% of respondents said
that they stood to gain by the changes occurred in the past few
years, while 74% regarded themselves as the losers. At the same
time, 43% said they got accustomed to the present situation and
23% that they could get accustomed to it in the near future.
Pension, wage and student grant arrears remain one of the main
grounds for worry.
However, positive changes are observed precisely in these
spheres more often than in others. In the beginning of January
54% of respondents said that the situation in these spheres is
on an improvement course in their city or region, only 10%
thought that it was deteriorating and 32% saw no change at all.
Early last year only 17% noted improvements, while 26% thought
that the situation became worse.
This probably explains more positive appraisals of the
situation in the country. In the end of January 28% agreed that
"the country is on the right course" (in the beginning of that
month the corresponding percentage was 33, but that outbreak of
optimism was related to New Year emotions). This also explains
the growing trust of Russians in such a political slogan as
"continued market reforms". Whereas last year its approval
rating ranged from 25% in January to 32% in November, this past
January the ratio of "for" and "against" it was 36% to 20%
(according to a Monitoring-type poll among 2,400 respondents).
Last January 9% of Russians described their personal
condition as "things are not that bad, I can handle them," 50%
as "life is hard but tolerable" and 35% said that "it is
impossible to tolerate our predicament any more."
The aggregate components of the "public sentiment index,"
which is estimated on the basis of the results of opinion polls
on the appraisal by Russians of their own economic situation,
the situation in Russia, and their expectations and sentiments,
have been stably on the rise in the past few months. It was 85
points on the eve of the 1998 collapse, 63 points in the end of
that crisis year, 87 points throughout 1999 and 100 points last
It should be borne in mind that the issue at hand is only
a relative improvement, as compared with several preceding
By and large, the majority of Russians appraise the situation
of their families and their country as a whole rather
pessimistically. Half of respondents think that the country is
on a "wrong course" or "on a course to a blind alley"; 50% call
their material condition as "bad" and "very bad," 56% say the
same about the economic situation in their city or region and
70% about the economic situation in the country as a whole.
The results of the latest opinion poll conducted last
January give ground to pick out the following orientations of
1. To survive, albeit at the most primitive level ... 21%
2. To live not worse than the majority of families in
one's city, region ............................ 46%
3. To live better than
the majority of families in one's city, region
4. To live as well as an
average West European or US family lives
5. To live better than an
average West European or US family lives
Warfare Without an End
During the six months of the war in the North Caucasus
Russian public opinion has been in the extreme state of
suspense and aggressive mobilisation which we have not observed
a long time now. A considerable part of Russians are firmly for
the continuation of the military operation. No tangible change
has occurred in this position with the exception of signs of
some tiredness and wretchedness.
According to the January data, more than half of Russia's
population support the continuation of the offensive and the
storming of Grozny and a much smaller part - about a quarter -
would rather prefer negotiations with the Chechen side. What is
more, differences in the positions of people from different
walks of life and different political affiliations are not that
Herein lies the principled dissimilarity of the perception of
the previous (1994-1996) and the current Chechen campaigns. In
1994-1996 democratic parties and forces regarded it as their
duty to come out against the war, whereas the communist
opposition used the general condemnation of power actions to
launch a noisy anti-president campaign. At present, much
larger-scale hostilities with much heavier casualties serve as
a rather effective method to league political elites.
It is indicative that until very recently the Chechen
military operation was not at the top of the list of urgent
problems in the eyes of the public at large. The worry born by
a series of bomb explosions last September has grown much
weaker by now. In January, only 18% of respondents (the lowest
percentage in the past year, corresponding percentages were 41
in September and 30 in November 1999) called the Russian
political situation "critical and explosive." At the same time
in January 44% of respondents called the Chechen war one of the
most painful problems (next to prices and unemployment).
The answers to the question in what way the present
Chechen campaign is different from the previous one were
divided as follows:
1. Does not differ in any way, it is just the continuation of
the previous campaign which was not completed .... 35%
2. The first campaign was
Yeltsin's political mistake, while the present actions are
justified and necessary .......................... 25%
3. The first campaign was poorly managed by the Russian command
(Pavel Grachev and the others) .................. 28%
4. Others ........................................ 2%
5. Difficult to answer ........................... 10%
Few Russians hoped that the hostilities will be over soon.
Only 2% believed this would happen within a month (that is, in
February), 26% - by summer and 10% by autumn; 15% said the war
would continue over that period and 24% said that it would last
for "many years" (with 24% of respondents having no answer to
It is worth noting how answers to the question how the
current armed conflict would end have been changing.
October November December January
Chechen militants will
be routed and Chechnya
will return to Russia's
wake 24% 32% 45% 39%
The part of Chechnya north
of the River Terek will be
severed from Chechnya and
re-integrated into Russia 7% 8% 6% 6%
The conflict will be
fraught with a tremendous
loss of life and end the
same way the first conflict
ended in 1996 19% 12% 13% 15%
It will become protracted
fighting and spread to
other regions 30% 25% 22% 24%
Difficult to answer 20% 23% 14% 16%
The above table shows that in January of this year
Russians were less sure of the possibility of a decisive
success and more sceptical about the outcome of the Chechen
In the beginning of January 42% of respondents expected
that Putin, who had just taken over the presidency, would
ensure the "victorious completion of the military operation in
Chechnya" and only 23% believed in the "political settlement of
the Chechen problem." In the end of the same month the position
in favour of "an end to the war in Chechnya" was on the top of
the list of expectations pinned on the acting President (56%).
The option "to terminate the war" was supported by 39% and that
"to continue the war to the end and eliminate the Chechen
bandits" by 31%. This gives the ground to talk of a crack in
the "monolith" of society's military-political mobilisation.
In the past few months many Russians have had the
impression that the linkage of Putin's political success to the
military solution of the Chechen problem precludes any searches
for alternatives and even variants of the course on which he
has embarked. The present state of Russian public opinion
shows, however, that Putin has enough resources to assure mass
support not only for the continuation of this course but also
for a certain degree of its re-orientation. Opinion polls show
that if Putin terminated hostilities in Chechnya, his approval
rating would grow in the eyes of 36% of Russians (including 24%
qualified as "considerable" approval rating) and decrease in
the eyes of 46% (including 26% qualified as "considerable"
disapproval rating). With his present approval rating the loss
of part of votes would not present any serious danger to Putin
as candidate to the next presidency. The losses of public
approval would be more tangible if Putin had to say that
Chechen rebels had not have anything to do with the provocative
bomb explosions in Moscow and other cities. In that, rather
improbable, case his "net" approval losses would amount to
slightly more than 50%.
March 26: Elections or a Plebiscite?
The incredibly high level of public trust in the acting
President against the background of the incredible low level of
knowledge about Putin as a human being and a politician, his
team and orientations is the pivot of public-political
Putin has succeeded to win popularity by showing his main
character traits - energy, determination and persistence - in a
certain field which was prepared for this in advance, leaving
open the question how, for what purpose and with whom he
intends and is able to use these qualities. As a result, the
country today knows the name of the man who is more likely than
not to be elected President on March 26, but it does not know
what its new President will be. The "right" expect him to make
a right turn in politics, the "left" - to assure a return to
the values of social justice, patriots - to rebuff the West's
intrigues, liberals - to preserve business ties with the West,
among other things, and practically all, with the support of
public opinion hope that the determination of the new President
will ensure some order in the country (though it is unclear
what kind of order).
Suffice it to recall that Russia used to have a similar
situation less than a year ago. The Primakov phenomenon was
different from the present in numerical indicators (age,
approval rating, etc.) but it differed very little in terms of
vague precepts and sympathies thanks to which representatives
of most diverse orientations regarded the then Premier as their
ally and were prepared to see both "left" and "right" actions
on his part.
In January 1999, 29% of respondents called Yevgeny Primakov the
"most trusted" politician - the maximum approval rating at that
time (the previous highest approval rating - 40% - belonged to
Alexander Lebed in September 1996). Putin's rating grew from
45% in November 1999 to 49% last January. It is true that he is
in a peculiar situation on the scale of public trust as he
already has power, whereas all the previous favourites only
vied for it. That is why the reference that his so quickly won
trust can be wasted as quickly is not applicable to the present
The approval rating of Putin as the Prime Minister grew
from 32% in August to 53% in September, to 66% in October, to
78% in November, to 79% in December 1999 and January 2000 (the
average number on the results of four opinion polls about Putin
as Premier and acting President conducted last January). As we
see, the peak of approval was reached last November and has
stayed at practically the same level since then.
Of greatest importance are, unquestionably, the indicators
of readiness to vote for a certain candidate in the coming
presidential election. The following table illustrates the
dynamics of popularity of the most probable presidential
hopefuls in the past six months.
August September October November December January
Primakov 19% 19% 16% 11% 9% 7%
Putin 2% 4% 21% 42% 50% 58%
Yavlinsky 9% 9% 7% 5% 4% 3%
Zhirinovsky 7% 3% 3% 2% 2% 2%
Zyuganov 26% 27% 20% 18% 15% 16%
So, the result of the elections in Putin's favour was
determined as far back as last October. Last December, it
became clear that given the preservation of the existing or
close to the existing make-up of mass appeal, he would achieve
this success in the first round of the elections. (According to
the results of the January opinion polls, if the runoff were to
be held, Putin would outpace Zyuganov at the ratio of 69 to 17
and Primakov at 70 to 13.)
The following is the "forecast of the public" - the
distribution of opinions as to who will become the next
President. In August 1999 Primakov would be supported by 14%,
Zyuganov by 11% and Putin by 5%, while the majority of eligible
voters either preferred other names or was undecided. The
expectations of the majority were more definite in December:
Putin (52%), Zyuganov and Primakov 5% each. In January the
situation was as follows: Putin (66%), Zyuganov (4%) and
Primakov (2%) with only 2% of respondents naming other
candidates (each of the named garnered less than 1%) and 24%
having difficulty to answer this question. Both experience and
theory show that such expectations have noticeable influence on
the behaviour of the voters.
It is the first time in the past ten years that we have a
situation when the coming presidential election will be
practically uncontested. None of the well-known (or little
known) candidates can be a real challenge to the acting
President. It really does not matter if there are five or
fifteen names on the ballot and what their names are. Under the
present line-up of forces and with the present likes and
dislikes of the population there seems to be no alternative to
Putin. This means that we will sooner have a plebiscite, that
is, public vote in favour of the one and only possible winner,
rather than elections. The choice from among a certain number
of potential candidates has already been made in the corridors
of power by some of its secret games designers and the public
(or the electorate) is only to confirm it. As we see, public
opinion is quite ready for this.
The only thing left is to codify the result by popular vote. We
have to admit that after a decade of political wrangle the
Russian society is not ready for public, open politics. But
when political bureaucracy triumphs, the laurels of the winner
are received by "a stranger" who has already been chosen. This
is unlikely to lead to the establishment of political
conformism at all levels and tough rivalry will undoubtedly
Behind-the-scene federal-level decision-making is likely to
become even more widely used but less effective. Rigid
constructions often prove to be the most fragile.
The above-mentioned incredibly high public approval level,
which appeals to the eye so much, deserves a special analysis.
The choice expressed by the ratio of 30% to 40% (something like
we had in the previous presidential election), which is rather
typical of political processes, and the phenomenal situation
when the ratio is 70% to 80% and even to 99% are two absolutely
different phenomena. If voters are to choose between two real
political options, which are comparable on some points and
different on others, they side with one and oppose the other.
There is no alternative - and, hence, no involvement and
interest - in the plebiscite vote. Be it with enthusiasm, fear
or indifference, people simply throw their approval behind the
favourite and his team. Such is the mechanism of totalitarian
and latter-day "Eastern" conformism. Will it be possible in
real earnest to inculcate it on Russia's incredibly bustled
Web page for CDI Russia Weekly: