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Johnson's Russia List


March 8, 2000    
This Date's Issues: 4153 4154 4155


Johnson's Russia List
8 March 2000

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Cinderellas of Perestroika and Market Reform.
2. Itar-Tass: Murder of Yatsina "Monstrous Brutality": Vasily Aksyonov.
3. VOA's Eve Conant reports on condition of women in Ivanovo.
4. Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Dmitry Gornostayev, PUTIN DOES NOT INVITE RUSSIA INTO NATO. But His Words Could Initiate the Process in the Former Soviet Republics.
7. The Nation: Abraham Brumberg, A MORE HUMANE MIKADO. (Review of Leon Aron's YELTSIN--A Revolutionary Life.]


Russia Today press summaries
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 7, 2000
Cinderellas of Perestroika and Market Reform

On the eve of International Women's Day, it is time to reflect on working 
women in Russia. In the Soviet Union, women were guaranteed equal payment to 
men for equal work. In the seventies and eighties, the average woman's wage 
accounted for about seventy percent of the average man's wages. This rate was 
approximately the same as in developed countries worldwide.

Perestroika of the late eighties and the subsequent market reforms brought 
serious changes to Russia’s labor market. According to official government 
statistics, in 1992, women accounted for 75 percent of total registered 
unemployment in Russia. And half of these unemployed women held degrees from 
institutions of higher education.

According to recent studies, the level of women's unemployment has dropped 
slightly, primarily due to the emergence of small business. The more alarming 
figure is that women's wages account for only fifty percent of the average 
man's wage. Mostwomen in Russia work in public, state-funded sectors like 
health care or education where salaries are half the national average. Very 
few women work in wealthy industries like oil or gas, where wages are 300 to 
400 times higher than the average in Russia.


Murder of Yatsina "Monstrous Brutality": Vasily Aksyonov.

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Itar-Tass) -- Russian writer Vassily Aksyonov, who now 
lives and works in the United States, said the slaying by Chechen militants 
of Itar-Tass news photographer Vladimir Yatsina, who had been held by them as 
hostage for ransom, was a case of "monstrous brutality." 

Aksyonov told Itar-Tass that unfortunately when looking at Chechnya, "the 
public in the West has one blind eye and one deaf ear": they listen to Udugov 
but do not hear representatives of the Russian authorities." For all that, 
Aksyonov does not think that there exists in the West "any vicious desire to 
destroy Russia." He thinks that "most intellectuals are victims of 
stereotypes," like the belief that whenever somebody small is fighting 
somebody big, the little one is always right. "In actual fact, the little one 
can turn out to be a malicious viper." For all our minuses, the Russian army 
represents a democratic country which is confronted by "a slave- owning 
structure which stinks of the dark ages and the criminal world," the writer 

The killing of Vladimir Yatsina was ominous in character, he noted. It 
reflected the substance of the drama which is unfolding in the North Caucasus 
where a journalist is seen as "a walking money- bag: it can be snatched and 
then resold." "It is necessary to emphasize the brutal character of the force 
opposing Russia," he said. 

Aksyonov recalled Anatoly Sobchak's words: if the Chechen militants are 
referred to as separatists, then in the eyes of some people in the West they 
appear to be romantic freedom-loving fighters. "In fact, they are sadists, a 
dreadful breed who like to cut," Aksyonov said. He made it clear that he he 
did not mean the whole Chechen nation but only "the group of rabid people 
that has taken shape in its midst." 


Voice of America

INTRO: Russia's Acting President Vladimir Putin on 
Tuesday (3/7) visited the Russian region of Ivanovo, 
the heart of the country's textile industry, 350 
kilometers east of Moscow. Ivanovo once was called 
the "city of women" -- young Soviet women flocked to 
the city to build careers as seamstresses and textile 
workers. But many of Ivanovo's factories now are 
closed and the once-prestigious profession is beset 
with wage delays and low pay. 
/// OPT /// Acting 
President Putin's visit comes on the eve of 
International Women's Day, a holiday widely celebrated 
in Russia. /// END OPT /// 
V-O-A Correspondent Eve 
Conant recently visited Ivanovo and filed this report. 

TEXT: In Soviet times, there was a well-known phrase, 
"If you want a bride, go to Ivanovo." Ivanovo was 
called the "city of women" -- named after the tens of 
thousands of women who came here to work in the 
growing textile industry. There were even songs 
dedicated to the city and what was considered its 
romantic profession.


Soviet films were made in honor of the women who 
flocked here for prestigious jobs as weavers, fabric 
makers, and seamstresses.

Now, decades later, the streets of Ivanovo are filled 
with both men and women shopping at roadside markets 
or waiting in line to catch city buses. The 
demographics may have evened out, but there is still 
an aura of a woman's city.

Sixty-seven-year-old Lucia Trynova came to Ivanovo as 
a young woman. Lucia, a devout communist, is named 
after the Bolshevik revolution. Her name "Lucia" 
would be the second half of the Russian word for 
revolution, "Revo-lucia."


Only girls came here. They needed female 
workers -- weavers, spinners, women to wind the 

/// END ACT ///

She found work at the Samoilova factory. It was built 
more than 200 years ago and still employs many of 
Ivanovo's residents.


The bright red and green patterns coming off the 
machines will soon be cut into dishtowels, sheets, and 
cloth for women's dresses. The women working this day 
in the factory wear blue robes and headscarves just as 
they have for decades, but their lives have changed 
dramatically. Any glory their profession used to hold 
is gone.

The Samoilova factory's personnel director, Natalia 
Zuykova, says the changes all happened too fast.


Women are suffering because there are no jobs. 
Before, when Ivanovo was still the "city of 
brides," we had strong industry, now the 
factories are closing down and people are being 
laid off.

/// END ACT ///

In a top floor of the factory are the sewing rooms 
where the newcomers hone their skills.


Their once-prestigious wages are now barely enough to 
survive. On average, the women earn the equivalent of 
25 dollars a month. They say they constantly worry 
they will be fired as the nearly bankrupt factory cuts 
back production. To help the women, the factory has a 
store where workers can buy products without cash, 
instead using promissory notes in lieu of their 
salary. But the store is little comfort, as the 
shelves are empty except for some cooking oil and 

The barter of goods is also on a wider scale. The 
factory's personnel director says the Samoilovo 
factory often trades industrial cloth for sugar or 
canned fish from other destitute Russian factories. 
She says Russians are importing cloth when they should 
be supporting domestic industry.

Seamstress Galina Ionova has worked at the factory for 
33 years and says she wishes she could find another 
job, but has few alternatives. 


I'm from the Urals where the only industry was 
metalworking. I learned about textiles from 
films and magazines. Making cloth seemed like 
such a pretty thing to do. Had I know how hard 
it would be I never would have come here.

/// END ACT ///

Her daughter Anya also works at Samoilovo. The blond, 
blue-eyed 19-year-old says that unlike her mother, she 
has never looked forward to the life of a 
"textilshytsa" -- which for her means a life of low 
wages and grueling labor.


My mother sets a good example for me -- she's 
worked her whole life around the factory. But 
that is not the life I want, there is no 
future for me there.

/// END ACT ///

Instead, Anya is studying at night school to become an 
economist. Until she finds work in her profession, 
she says she will work at the factory as she has for 
the past two years. She says she wants stability, 
something her mother and the other women from the 
factory say they lost a long time ago. 


Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 7, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
But His Words Could Initiate the Process in the Former 
Soviet Republics

"I don't see why not," acting president Vladimir Putin 
told BBC on Sunday when answering a question about the 
possibility of joining NATO. It was an additional question and 
it is clear that Putin had not intended to announce Russia's 
decision to join NATO. But the majority of those who hurried to 
provide their commentaries decided that Putin had actually 
announced Russia's decision to join the bloc.
The left shouted that the acting president had called for 
yielding to the aggressive bloc, while the liberals said with 
clever faces that he was wise and far-seeing, and started 
discussing the advantages of joining NATO for Russia. 
But in fact, Putin did not say anything new. Nobody has 
ever excluded the theoretical possibility that Russia might one 
day join NATO. On the other hand, Putin did not choose the 
right words, which is probably why they were unanimously 
understood as the invitation into NATO. "Yes, he said something 
like this" -- this will be probably the most widespread 
interpretation of Putin's words about Russia-NATO relations in 
the Western evaluation of the immediate future. Some people 
would do this without thinking, while others would act with 
deliberation. Of course, any understatement -- and Putin's 
words were a perfect example of such -- can be interpreted in a 
variety of ways, to one's advantage. 
There is a major danger in Putin's words. From now on, 
Russia will not be able to energetically protest against the 
eastward enlargement of NATO, or the admission of the Baltic 
states and other ex-Soviet countries (possibly Ukraine, Georgia 
and Azerbaijan) into the bloc. The Russian diplomacy tactically 
tackled this problem before, above all through contacts with 
the current NATO members, mostly the USA. 
There are some very active members in the bloc -- Denmark, 
Iceland and Norway, which persistently raise the question of 
admitting Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to NATO. But the USA 
and several other bloc members, while supporting this stand (in 
word), cool the fire when the point at issue concerns the 
enlargement deadlines. They do it because of the unwritten 
agreement with Russia to the effect that ex-Soviet countries 
should not be allowed to join NATO.
Of course, this position of Washington rests not only on a 
desire to maintain normal relations with Moscow. When the 
Americans need to do this, or when they see that there is a way 
of doing this without particular danger to themselves, they 
will be the first to raise the question of admitting the Baltic 
states into NATO. But they have not done this, so far. The 
Baltic states have not been accepted as candidate members, 
although they filed the necessary request. 
But now they will have the right to say: "How dare Russia 
obstruct the admission of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to NATO 
if Putin expressed Russia's desire to join the bloc?" There are 
nuances and minor details, which determine the official Russian 
stand on the matter, but nobody would take notice of them. In 
this way, we will lose our trump card in the game of NATO 
Now that Putin has said these words, many will argue that 
Russia should indeed join NATO. But in order to do this, one 
must file a corresponding request. As soon as we do this, the 
Baltic states will do the same. And Brussels will be happy to 
accept all these requests. The trouble is, though, that they 
would admit the Baltic states, but not Russia. We will be 
first, rejected and second, lose the Baltic region. By the way, 
we filed a similar request in the 1950s -- only to be turned 
Besides, who's waiting for us in NATO? Nobody. Russia is 
too large a country with too considerable (so far) interests to 
first, be embraced with military guarantees, and second, to be 
allowed to take part in the solution of internal NATO problems 
(there are incredible internal contradictions in the bloc, 
although the USA dominates on most counts). A high-ranking NATO 
official told this newspaper that a day when Russia joins NATO 
will be the dying day of the bloc. We will simply not be able 
to digest you, adapt you, he added. 
And yet, there is a nugget of meaning in Putin's words. It 
concerns the importance of cooperating with the bloc. The 
acting president said that "we can speak about deeper 
integration with NATO, but only if Russia is regarded as an 
equal partner." Naturally enough, we expect a reciprocally 
positive reaction from the West, and movement towards 
cooperation with Moscow. This was one of the signals which 
Putin made to the West. And we can only hope that the West will 
understand Russia's stand in this way, and will not regard this 
new turn in the Russians' foreign policy as the green light for 
the NATO enlargement. 


March 7, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Public opinion polls held by the All-Russia Public Opinion 
Research Centre (VTsIOM) reflect some aspects characterising 
Russians' attitude to NATO, the United States and Americans

Question: Which of the proposed versions (see below) best 
meets Russia's interests, in your opinion? (The poll was 
conducted on January 28-31, 2000. The answers are given in 
percent of the number of respondents.)
Russia's membership in NATO - 9% 
The development of cooperation with NATO - 28% 
The creation of a defence alliance to 
counter NATO - 17% 
Russia's non-participation in any
military blocs - 28% 
Those who failed to give any answer - 18% 

So, more than a third of Russian citizens (37 percent) 
favour the development of cooperation with NATO, or even 
Russia's membership in NATO. This is the highest indicator over 
the past four years. (It should be remembered that until 
recently our authorities' official position did not allow our 
people to seriously think that Russia might ever join this 
alliance in the foreseeable future.) It is important that the 
number of those who oppose cooperation with NATO is half of the 
above number. Only one out of six Russians thinks that Russia 
should create (in a sort of cold war spirit) its own defence 
alliance to counter the North-Atlantic alliance. The rest of 
the respondents spoke for Russia's non-participation in any 
military blocs, or failed to give any answer. If this group of 
citizens decides that Russia's joining NATO meets our country's 
interests, the idea may be supported by the absolute majority 
of Russians.

Question: What is your attitude to the United States now?
(The poll was conducted on February 18-21, 2000.) 
Good, mostly good - 66% 
Bad, mostly bad - 22% 
Question: What is your attitude to the American people in 
Very good and mostly good - 78% 
Bad or very bad - 10% 
I don't know - 12% 
As we see it, two-thirds of Russians like the United 
States, and three-quarters of Russians like Americans in 
general. This means that the cold war, the time of fanning 
mutual hatred, is indeed a thing of the past.



Russian Mayak Radio broadcast a presidential election debate on 7th March 
featuring the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, 
Gennadiy Zyuganov. Acting President Vladimir Putin had been due to take part, 
but did not attend. The following is the text of the broadcast: 

[Presenter] Hello, you're listening to Vladimir Konyukov, and another 
programme "Debates between presidential candidates" is on the air. Acting 
President Vladimir Putin and the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian 
Federation, Gennadiy Zyuganov, were invited to the Mayak studio today in 
accordance with the lots drawn at the Central Electoral Commission. But 
unfortunately, a debate as such will not take place, since I now have sitting 
next to me only one of those invited - Gennadiy Zyuganov. And so, Gennadiy 
Andreyevich, we won't waste valuable time as you now have exactly half of our 
allotted time by law -10 minutes. If you don't mind I'll begin by asking, 
what do you think -will voters be able to see and hear a dialogue, a debate, 
on the air before 26th March between Zyuganov and Putin, believed to be the 
main contenders for the highest state post? Incidentally, in the West such a 
televised duel between the main contenders has become virtually the norm. Are 
there no negotiations going on between you about this at the moment? 

[Zyuganov] It's not just a norm, it's obligatory. I have the greatest respect 
for the listeners of Radio Mayak and I came specially, even though I have no 
time, in the hope that I would have my first meeting with Putin and we would 
answer the questions which are of concern to the country. I regret this 
deeply and I believe this is disrespect for citizens and opponents, and for 
radio listeners in general. 

[Q] They keep talking about how busy he is - 

[A] What do they mean "busy" -travelling around the country from morning till 
night. He went to Krasnodar, but no steps have been taken, they don't even 
have fuel oil for the sowing campaign. Not so long ago he went to see the 
energy workers, [Anatoliy] Chubays was sitting there, even though he has been 
destroying the energy sector and is continuing to destroy it. 

[Q] But you must agree, Gennadiy Andreyevich, that, after all, he's carrying 
out the most responsible duties in the country. 

[A] For the moment -he's not carrying them out but doing an imitation. Prices 
are still continuing to rise, people are continuing to get poorer. He 
recently sent us his proposals -20 odd proposals: to completely remove 
everything that was gained in the recent period to support citizens 
-education, science, culture, benefits for people in the north and for 
Chernobyl victims, and the rest. When I saw it I was just flabbergasted. 
Yeltsin did this when the elections were held and then he cancelled it all by 

[Q] Do you mean he sent government proposals to you in the State Duma? 

[A] To the State Duma, proposals to ease the budget, to get rid of everything 
that went some way to support science, education, culture, the sick, the poor 
and a whole range -I was just shocked by these proposals. 

[Q] It's also difficult for me to comment because - 

[A] You don't have to comment, you're holding a dialogue. Carry on. 

[Q] OK, Gennadiy Andreyevich. How would you comment on today's registration 
of Vladimir Zhirinovskiy as a presidential candidate? What lies behind this 
whole story? 

[A] The most corrupt, the most obedient man for the party of power. He is 
much needed. It looked like he had disappeared into the shadows, then they 
saw that these votes hadn't been redistributed to the party of power, and 
they brought him back urgently so that he can continue to take part in the 
election campaign. The prosecutor's office has been dreaming about him, 
missing him for a long while, they have all the material, starting with his 
flat, his failure to pay millions in tax and the rest. Zhirinovskiy is the 
personification of vileness, his whole course over the past 10 years. 

[Q] But he's a presidential candidate from today. 

[A] Let's move on, he doesn't deserve any special discussion. 

[Q] OK, so tell us, please, what are the cornerstones of your pre-election 

[A] The essence of the programme is a new economic course under which it will 
be advantageous for everyone to work, to invent and study instead of getting 
drunk and thieving. Second, the resolute curtailment of the plundering of the 
population and the country's assets. Everything is being stolen and shipped 
out of the country. Just recently the budget was R600bn, R20bn remain, and 
from these R20bn there isn't enough for many people even for a pitiful 
pension or for free medicines and free education. And third, the restoration 
of people's power and social justice, and the friendship of peoples. This is 
the foundation. I firmly undertake the following to the citizens of the 
country: to restore renewed Soviet power, and within two years to ensure 
permanent work for every citizen of Russia; to set minimum rates for 
public-sector workers and pensioners no lower than R1,000, and wages for 
teachers, doctors, servicemen and scientists no lower than R3,000; to 
introduce tough controls on the prices of staple products, medicines and 
essential goods; within five years to restore the savings which were rendered 
worthless by [Yegor] Gaydar and [Sergey] Kiriyenko; and to restore the right 
of citizens to cheap housing, communal services, free education, health care 
and reliable social security; to help young people to protect their families 
and children; to cut the prices of fuel, electricity, transport and 
communications; and to introduce preferential deferred credits, and provide 
refugees with financial benefits and free housing; taxes will be reduced 
accordingly, private property that has been legally obtained will be 
protected, conditions will be created for normal economic activity on the 
land, fair prices will be ensured, and much more. Extraordinary measures will 
be taken to fight corruption, banditry and crime. These are the main points 
in my programme, which has been published and can now be read. 

[Q] OK, so what are the actual mechanisms for implementing all these good 
intentions which you mentioned? 

[A] Excuse me, you can't say that, it's not good intentions, it's people's 

[Q] OK, so what's it based on? What calculations do you have? 

[A] On very simple things. We have calculations. Listen to me, you're taking 
up my time again. In order to implement the programme we don't just need the 
will but the support of the people. As a candidate I appeal to my radio 
listeners: if you make a mistake again then by the summer there will be 
economic collapse and don't come complaining to anyone any more. I am 
proposing measures to obtain the revenue in the immediate future, R800bn, 
actually twice the budget. First, curtailing the illegal export of capital 
will give us at least R320bn. Second, nationalizing the export of oil and gas 
-R110bn, we could have that tomorrow. At the moment they're selling more than 
100m tonnes of crude oil, 60 dollars per tonne, but the citizens don't see a 
penny of it. Third, establishing order in the Unified Energy System, Gazprom, 
the Railways Ministry and other natural monopolies -R90bn, and what's more, 
Chubays is pursuing a policy of destroying the country's power grid. If he 
kills it off it will be completely impossible to restore the economy. Fourth, 
introducing a state monopoly on vodka -R60bn. Normalizing monetary 
circulation and overcoming the nonpayments crisis -about R100bn. Eliminating 
importers' unjustified benefits and loopholes for the evasion of customs duty 
-another R90bn. And transferring the Central Bank's profits to the state 
budget could give us another R30bn tomorrow. Plus VAT on importers of 
services -R60bn, that's R860bn which are lying around and which can be taken. 
It's said they won't agree. One or two per cent won't agree, but 98 per cent 
will give their vigorous support. 

[Q] You say tomorrow, but why not do it today? If it's so easy, why not do it 

[A] That's the main question. It's not easy, but these are normal measures. 
Many of those who have built up huge capital will agree with this. We're only 
taking from what they are receiving. Natural resources alone yield 80bn 
dollars a year, and they give 20bn to the budget. And if it's shared half and 
half, we could immediately put the situation right. 

[Q] Who will share it? 

[A] Those who have been earning all this. A few people, the oligarchy and the 
mafia, a few people have taken all this for themselves. By the way, Primakov 
and Maslyukov, when there was a so-called Communist government, when we had 
three people there, had already taken a number of measures. The monthly 
outflow of currency dropped from R1.5bn to R300m. In order to set minimum 
wages and pensions at R1,000, without raising prices for staple products, and 
R3,000 for teachers, doctors and servicemen, we need just 500m dollars. This 
operation alone will make it possible to increase pensions, benefits and 
wages for people tomorrow and give them a chance to survive in these 
difficult circumstances. 

[Q] Do you take account of the opposition which all the measures you are 
proposing will encounter? 

[A] Get them together and explain to them, as they did at the start of the 
century. Roosevelt, when America fell apart, gathered the biggest capitalists 
and said -either or. Either we have it the way it was in Russia in 1917, or 
you immediately give me 40 dollars from every 100, and I'll pay off the poor 
and support the talented. 

[Q] Do you think they'll understand? 

[A] Every last one gave it. 

[Q] And will ours understand? 

[A] They'll understand. They understand now. Many have already been abroad, 
they have worked and you can see people of a different type. 

[Q] Time is pressing. Gennadiy Andreyevich, tell me please, what do you think 
are the first, most essential steps for fighting corruption? You talk a lot 
about that. 

[A] To restore the law. For this, we have to limit the despotism of the 
president. The government has to be placed under popular control - 

[Q] And if you become president will you agree to limit - 

[A] Immediately. Today even. Everything's set out in my programme, I'd do it 
today. We have to restore an independent court, so that it doesn't live from 
the president's handouts. We have to restore the prosecutor's office, 
prosecutors should be appointed by the Federation Council and so on, and we 
have to place all officials under the control of those who have been elected 
by the people. This would be done immediately. 

[Q] Well, you can see how quickly our time has passed, the literally 10 
minutes allotted to us have ended. 

[A] We have another minute, you've been talking for more than two minutes. 

[Q] Half a minute, OK. 

[A] I want to say that Putin's recent statement about joining NATO, excuse 
me, undermines national security. This means the whole northern hemisphere in 
NATO, firstly, this is a threat to Beijing, secondly, it's a threat to Delhi, 
thirdly, it's a threat to the whole Arab world, fourthly, and it is in 
general our total subordination to all the standards of NATO. This is a total 
loss of our sovereignty and independence, this is a derisive attitude to all 
those 27m who laid down their lives fighting fascism. 

[Q] You were listening to the views of presidential candidate Gennadiy 
Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. We're 
ending here - 

[A] I would like to congratulate our dear, kind women on the coming 8th 
March, and I hope that everything turns out well, that your homes will have 
peace and plenty. I am hoping for your support. I wish you happiness, love 
and good health. 

[Q] Thank you, all the best. 


Date: Tue, 07 Mar 2000 
From: abraham brumberg <> 
Subject: review of Aron's book on Yeltsin

The Nation
March 27, 2000
By Abraham Brumberg
Abraham Brumberg has written extensively on Russian and East European

YELTSIN--A Revolutionary Life
By Leon Aron
St. Martin's Press, 2000, 934 pp.

Leon Aron, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
has over the past few years become known as an authority on Boris Yeltsin,
a man he patently likes and has vigorously defended against his
detractors, mostly on television programs such as the Lehrer News Hour. 
Regularly identified by his TV hosts as author of a forthcoming biography
of Yeltsin, Mr. Aron has now produced the long-promised volume, and
the least one can say is that it does not disappoint: the author is as
generous in the assessment of his subject, as charitable in
"accentuating the positive," as one would expect from his television
Mr. Aron's book, more than 900 pages long, fairly brims with data
and reflections-- copious quotations from Yeltsin's speeches and
interviews, minute descriptions of the circumstances under which they
were delivered, faithful reconstructions of Yeltsin's moods varying from 
euphoria to dark depression, apposite quotations from other thinkers
(Isaiah Berlin for one), historical digressions and comparisons pondered 
by the author during the book's lengthy gestation. The intellectual fare
produced by such cogitations--I might as well lay my cards on the table--is
not very compelling. But it testifies to Mr. Aron's earnest investment
in his subject. . 
Mr. Aron also devotes a fair number of pages to Yeltsin's 
childhood, youth, and formative years as party First Secretary in the city
of Sverdlovsk. Which is to the good, inasmuch as some of the traits that
became so prominent during Yeltsin's presidential (cum, for a time,
prime-ministerial) tenure were already sprouting during his 
apprenticeship.. Yeltsin's stamina, his ebullience, industriousness were
evident -- as was his habit of running roughshod over subordinates who
failed to meet his exacting demands, his scant concern for the niceties of
democratic procedure and his uncanny ability to project a populist image
combining scorn for the privileged "higher ups" with concern for the man
on the street. Notwithstanding his stern criticism of his superiors'
bourgeois appetites, he earned their blessings and substantial popular
support as well. Clearly, here was a man who knew how to get things done.
Mr. Aron is not an indiscriminating groupie. He takes note, for
instance, of Yeltsin's fawning attitude to his one-time boss, Leonid
Brezhnev, whose "wisdom, giant talent for organization, human charm,
bubbling energy" he extolled. . Yeltsin's speeches also bristled with
mordant condemnations of the mistakes, ineptitude, and grandiloquent
claims made by party and government bureaucrats, some of them--this by
implication--high-level colleagues. All this, however, was typical of
Soviet rhetoric, with its pattern of extravagant praise for this or that
achievement , immediately followed - with the mere introduction of the
word "however" (odnako) - by a litany of criticisms and denunciations. 
(In time the "odnako-syndrome" became a favorite subject of Soviet 
cartoonists.) In Yeltsin's case both the censure and acclaim tended to
excess (as did much else in his behavior), but Aron offers little evidence
for his observation that astringent remarks about bureaucrats should be
interpreted as a a presentiment of Yeltsin's future "revolutionary"
challenge to the verkhushka (top leadership).
Indeed, the term "revolutionary," which Mr. Aron uses in the title
of his book and to describe the bulk of Yeltsin's tenure, encapsulates the
author's basic approach to his subject. "Revolution," after all, is a good
word (forget l9l7). Yeltsin, Aron acknowledges, committed many horrendous 
errors. Some of them arrested the country's political and economic
progress, some resulted in misery for millions of people, some vitiated the
very democracy he vowed to upheld. Yet in Aron's view, these were bound 
to be temporary and were indeed justified by their "revolutionary" end: to
bring Russia into the realm of freedom and plenty. 
Like Lincoln and deGaulle, two men he reveres, Aron is confident
that Yeltsin will come to be regarded as a member of a "club, perhaps
history's most exclusive, [consisting] of those who took over great
countries on the very brink of national catastrophe, held them together,
repaired and restored them, and, in the process, changed. them
fundamentally and for the better." Both deGaulle and Lincoln , he says,
did not "hesitate to deploy large-scale and often indiscriminate violence,"
both both regarded "the acquisition, retention and aggregation of personal
power [as] inseparable from the good of the nation". Ditto presumably for
Yeltsin who, like deGaulle and Lincoln and other (unnamed) members of the
"club," "never crossed the line beyond which fundamental democratic
principles were irreparably compromised. Dictators to their critics," they
all "belong instead to that rare political breed: authoritarian democrats."
A tantalizing term, but how did Aron arrive at it? For one
thing, by his predilection for seemingly compelling, but in fact
misleading comparisons. I am not an authority on either Lincoln or
deGaulle, nor have I read the rather sparse sources on which Aron based his
comparative reflections, but I find it difficult to see how Yeltsin's
career, first as a Communist believer, and then as an authoritarian (all
right, democratic authoritarian) anti-Communist has much in common with
the political biographies of those two men. 
Moreover, Yeltsin wielded power under turbulent but quite different
circumstances. In l993, perhaps the most crucial year of his tenure, he
repeatedly used arbitrary methods and blatant lies (such as
indiscriminately labeling his adversaries "fascists," "Communists" or
both) to emasculate the democratically elected legislature, many of whose
members were at first highly sympathetic to the president, and to
concentrate more power in his own hands.. (In his autobiographical The
View from the Kremlin, published in l994, Yeltsin gloats about preparing to
give the parliament "a good horse-whipping").Yeltsin's rhetoric was
applauded by many "democrats" who demanded the abrogation of all political
rights enjoyed by their right-wing adversaries As the year drew to a
close, he finally succeeded in dissolving the Congress by force, in the
process causing between two to three hundred casualties, gutting the
Supreme Court and foisting a new constitution on the country with enormous
powers vested in the presidency. The legitimacy of the vote approving that
constitution has been challenged by a number of distinguished Russian
intellectuals; Yeltsin, however, managed to side-step this criticism, and
the critics finally gave up. Aron writes not a word about this. 
It is true that a severe economic depression denuded the food
stores and ravaged people's living standards, but Aron offers no evidence
to demonstrate that these forces determined Yeltsin's behavior. Nor is it
helpful to speculate that Yeltsin truly believed in the "retention and
aggregation of personal power [as] inseparable from the good of the
nation." So, one can assume, did Stalin. So certainly did Lenin (if we 
substitute the word "proletariat" for "nation"), and so thought many other
would-be and actual dictators.
Aron pays scarcely any attention Yeltsin's personal ambitions and
dubious methods. Although he does not give his hero an entirely clean bill
of health, he generally portrays the events of that year in Manichean
terms, a struggle between Boris, Angel of Light and the multiple demons of
Darkness. He never considers the possibility, one that has been
convincingly argued by the former Guardian correspondent in Russia,
Jonathan Steele, that Yeltsin himself deliberately precipitated the violent
contretemps between the Supreme Soviet deputies and the Russian armed
forces in October l993. (see Steele's Eternal Russia, l994, a book not
listed in Aron's bibliography; which is in general very short on works 
critical of Yeltsin).
Aron, as I mentioned earlier, is adept in the art of "accentuating
the positive." He stresses Yeltsin's rejection of traditional Russian
nationalism and gives him credit, rightly, for helping to remove all
restrictions on Jewish cultural, religious and political activity, and thus
for being instrumental in reviving Jewish life in a part of the world long
infected with antisemitism. He also points approvingly to Yeltsin's
settlement of many fractious issues between Russia and Ukraine, capped by
the l997 treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. 
(It might be worth noting, however, that in December l991 Ukraine, along
with Belorussia, stood by Yeltsin when at a secret meeting they pronounced,
with a stroke of a pen, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, gthus also
dealing a heav y blow at Yeltsin's principal opponent, Mikhail Gorbachev. 
And so a few years on Yeltsin repaid his debt to his ally.) Finally, he
mentions Yeltsin's consistent support for the national aspirations of the
Baltic peoples.
All true--up to a point. First, the major credit for bringing
about the end of imperial Russian behavior --that is, in Eastern Europe
and in Soviet relations with the West--belongs squarely to Gorbachev, to
his new foreign policy and "new political thinking.". There were
difference s between the two men: Yeltsin, eager to undermine Gorbachev,
was bent on bringing about the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 
Gorbachev, on the other hand, wanted to preserve it in one form or
another--though emphatically not (Aron to the contrary) by resort to 
force. It is Gorbachev, not Yeltsin, who remains the major architect of
the Soviet Union's and then Russia's foreign policy, of establishing the
era of peaceful relations (rather than the specious "peaceful coexistence)
with the West. Similarly, Aron's praises the vitality of political
pluralism (as evidenced by regular elections) and relaxation of censorship,
both of which he attributes to Yeltsin, thus minimizing the enormous
importance of Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost." .
Always eager to laud his hero, Aron lets wishful thinking dim
reality. "One momentous precedent," Aron writes , "has already been
established: the end of the war in Chechnya". And he adds: "Never before in
Russian history had non-violent political competition and free electoral
choice borne so directly and effectively on the Kremlin's major national
security policy."
"The end of the war in Chechnya?" Two years after signing the
solemn peace treaty with his minuscule adversary, and months before the
appearance of Aron's book, Yeltsin launched another invasion, under a cover
of mendacious assurances (just a "temporary action"...) The generals
wanted to avenge the humiliating fiasco of l997. Chechnya obliged by
becoming mired in chaos, kidnappings, and murderous in-fighting,. Several
Chechen warlords launched raids into neighboring Daghestan (without the
approval of Chechnya's president), and explosions devastated several
apartment houses in Moscow and other cities, with shocking loss of life. 
There is no proof that Chechens were responsible for them, and it is
altogether likely, as some observers have speculated, that they were
caused or tacitly condoned by those who yearned for a showdown with the
Chechen guerillas. (In fact, in January of this year the FSB--successor to
the KGB--announced that of the l4 men arrested on suspicion of causing the
explosion, not one was a Chechen.}Whoever was responsible, the explosions
exacerbated "anti-black" feelings in Russia (never far from the surface)
and official language quickly branded Chechens "murderers," "terrorists"
(shades of the the old "enemies of the people"), or, in line with the
Russian predilection for "earthy language," "pure shit." .
During the first Chechen war, Yeltsin had to contend with hostile
Russian and foreign media. Now, however, the oligarchs seized control of
the major media. (They had negotiated a notorious "loans for shares"
agreement with the regime, receiving almost unlimited governmental
financial aid and the right to manage their affairs with little government
interference in payment for their unqualified political support for Yeltsin
- a colossal piece of criminality glossed over in Aron's book.) Censorship
of war coverage became severe, with Russian television purveying mendacious
stories and falsified data, and correspondents warned against objective let
alone sympathetic coverage of the Chechen side. This gave Yeltsin a free
hand to pursue a war which Russia's human rights defender, Sergey Kovalev,
has labeled "genocidal".. Under Yeltsin, too, the circulation of
periodicals declined by 40 percent , and about three fourths of all human l
rights organizations have been denied of the possibility to initiate legal
actions. In addition to the reimposition of censorship and of restrctions
on human rights groups, the war served to revive the myth. of Russia's
national greatness and military prowess which Aron was so confident Yeltsin
had banished for ever. 
Aron's weakness for partisan history (his version of the "odnako
syndrome") is perhaps most blatant in his discussion of Yeltsin's economic
policies. He notes some deplorable features, but in general pronounces the
"reforms" a ringing success. Yet in fact much the opposite is true. The
"shock therapy" urged upon Russia by a group of Harvard economists, above
all Jeffrey Sachs, supported by the US Gopvermnment and energetically
implemented by several young Russian economists proved a disaster.. The
swift elimination of most price controls and subsequently a sweeping
privatization program resulted in hyperinflation and wiped out, in several
instalments, all the savings of average Russians. About one third of
Russia's population thus found itself living below the poverty level, some
have grown enormously rich, sending their profits to Swiss banks (en
estimated $150 billion over since l991) instead of ploughing them into 
their country's sagging industries. The massive privatization program was
fueled by huge sums of American money, which under the direction of the
economist Anatomy Chubais, Yeltsin's protégé, were used to transfer the
lion's share of state-owned economy into the hands of a small number of
business tycoons (the "oligarchs") who--as noted before--gained enormous
political power 
Chubais & Co. have benefitted greatly from this program. The
oligarchs paid Chubais a $3million fee in the form of an interest-free
loan. Subsequently it turned out that two members of the Harvard
Institute for International Development (HIID), which ran the privatization
program, were "using their personal relations...for private gain,"thus in
fact compounding the corruption they helped bring about. Both were
summarily dismissed from their jobs, and the HIID terminated its
"missionary" activities in Russia. ( For an excellent analysis of Russia's
economic disasters and the role played by Western economists, see Janine
R. Wedel, Collision and Collusion--The Strange Case of Western Aid to
Eastern Europe, l998.)
A brief digression: Economic blight is ubiquitous through
Russia--though not in Moscow --leading many which Western visitors to
assume, after noting the number of furs and Mercedeses on the streets, that
conditions in Moscow replicate those in other parts of the country. 
Wrong. To be sure, the mayor of Moscow , Yuri Luzhkov, has done an
impressive job. More apartments have gone up in in Moscow than in any
other city, restaurants and night spots proliferate, the stores are full
and the prostitutes more expensive than anywhere else. But in addition to
the fact that Russia's small number of "nouvaux riches"--whose income,
according to one of Moscow's deputy mayos, is 61.3% higher than the income
of the poorest inhabitants --all congregate in Moscow, the truth is that
other regions have been forced to pay for Moscow's expansion., (The deputy
mayor also reported., on February 28, that 52.2 percent of all Muscovites
live below the poverty level--this in the showcase of Russia's new
capitalism!) Furthermore, the city gets a large subsidy from the central
government, and 80 percent of the banking capital is concentrated there,
as are all the major oil and gas companies , which pay regional taxes on
corporate profits in Moscow, while regional subdivisions of these companies
cannot afford to pay profit taxes in their home regions. Also, fifty
percent of all foreign direct investment has gone to Moscow (see "After
Yeltsin Comes...Yeltsin, " by Daniel Treisman, Foreign Policy, Washington,
Winter l999). I myself can report from my travels in Moscow and other
Russian cities last summer that the capital of Russian is hardly the model
for the rest of the country.
To come back, then, to the main theme of this essay, it should be
clear that the evidence I cited does not bear out Mr. Aron's roseate view
of a country being "changed fundamentally and for the better." But the
truth is even grimmer. The criminalization of Russia has reached, 
according to an eminent sociologist, Nikita E. Pokrovsky, "the reverse of
public and personal morality in which criminal deviations are not only
permissible but ‘normal" (think, in addition to the pervasive corruption, 
of to the assassinations of competing mafiosi, of bankers, and journalists
not one of which has been solved ) Has Mr. Aron, I wonder, seen the l999
report Confessions at Any Cost--Police Torture in Russia, published in 1999
by the Human Right Watch, about the brutal extortion of confessions from
prisoners which "the courts commonly accept face value and use them
as a basis for convictions"? This sixty years after the era of Stalinist
forced confessions!
The condition of public health in Russia has never--repeat,
never--been so grave as it is now. The enormously higher rate of deaths
over births, of ninety percent of all infants born with serious health
problems, the rapidly growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases,
of alcoholism, tobacco consumption, cancer, pulmonary and coronary
illnesses, and of hard drug use is mind-boggling. All this, along with 
the shocking rise in suicides, one of the highest in the world (a few
weeks ago in Moscow alone eight suicides were recorded, all by people
hurling themselves from the roofs of their apartment buildings) have led
the eminent American demographer Murray Feshbach, basing himself on
statistrics provided by one of Russia's most eminent epidemiologists, Dr.
Vadim (not to be confused with the aforementioned Nikita) Pokrovsky, to 
predict a decrease of the population by 80 to l00 million (!) by the year
2050 (from l45.5 million people as of January l, 2000). It need hardly be
stressed that people aware that their lives are getting better woulkd not
cease to procreate or tro bash their brains out on the pavements of their
streets and courtyards. 
Yeltsin, of course, cannot be held responsible for all of these
developments, whose roots go back to conditions existing in Tsarist Russia
and more so to the horrors caused by a succession of Communist regimes
virtually bent on destroying civil institutions, sowing cynicism, the
cult of selfishness, hypocrisy, tolerance of brutality, all of which,
despite all the progress that has taken place over the past two decades,
have remained deeply rooted in Russian society.
But at no time in history is the path to the future predetermined,
and in all circumstances alternatives are available . This was certainly
true in the mid-eighties, when the country could easily go on vegetating,
with the bulk of the population assured of its daily bread and sausage and
the nomenklatura of its corrupting privileges, but instead produced a
leader who craved change no less than many ordinary citizens. Yeltsin,
too--in l991, when he had reached the pinnacle of popularity, and two years
later, when he reached the pinnacle of power-- had a choice of 
alternatives. He could have opted for a gradual tempo of economic reform
combined with the strengthening of legal institutions--as urged by the head
of the Yabloko political party, Gregory Yavlinsky-- that would provide
guarantees for economic and political progress. Instead of pouring billions
of roubles into mass murder, he could have used some of the availab le
funds to improve the sagging health system, avert the catastrophic
deterioration of the environnment, halt the rapid spread of criminality. 
Instead, he succumbed to the usual temptations of ambition and
greed, surrounded himself with unscrupulous cronies (soon to become known
as "The Family"), kept changing his prime ministers eaach one of whom
enjoyed his "absolute trust,", all the while engaging in bouts of drinking
that sapped his mental and physical powers and robbed him of all the
popularity he had once enjoyed. He was fortunate in finding a successor
who fully agreed with his policy in Chechnya, absolved him from all
wrongdoing (including beavior that had come to threaten Yeltsin with 
criminal investigation ), and resumed where his predecessor left off. 
All this was food for a clear-headed, dispassionate and potentially
fascinating and thoughtful biography. Instead, we got some valuable
pages with a heavy admixture of Panglossian cant. What a pity.


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