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9 March 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: Aeroflot Offers Women Free Trip to Europe March 6-April 20.
2. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: Put Soros In Charge of IMF Reform.
3. Reuters: Putin sends perfume to female troops on Women's Day.
4. gazeta.ru: Mila Kuzina, The Cost of Russian Education.
5. Novaya Gazeta: Boris Kagarlitsky, Exhaustion.
6. MSNBC: Aleksandr Golts and Dmitry Pinsker, Putin: a man without
guarantees. The West is satisfied, but the acting president has few policies.]
Aeroflot Offers Women Free Trip to Europe March 6-April 20.
MOSCOW, March 8 (Itar-Tass) - Russia's airline Aeroflot has announced a
special bonus programme for women.
Under the programme pegged to International Women's Day, every woman will get
a free ticket to any European city between March 6 and April 16 if she
travels there with a man.
If during this period a man buys a full business class ticket on any of the
Aeroflot flights, a woman accompanying him will get a free business class
Another requirement for applicants is that their stay in Europe should not be
at least three days. The last day of return under the programme is April 20.
March 9, 2000
EDITORIAL: Put Soros In Charge of IMF Reform
By Matt Bivens
As the U.S. Congress debates what it thinks about the IMF and World Bank this
week, it ought to lend an ear to people like financier George Soros. In fact,
the world's governments could do worse than to put Soros in charge of the
In a new book, Soros argues the Western democracies have utterly failed
Russia. His argument is unlikely to comfort the Clinton Democrats or the IMF
crowd, and it is at odds with the day's intellectual fashion f to shrug and
remark knowingly that no one was ever in a position to help Russia except the
Soros also ignores the conventional wisdom in insisting that foreign aid can
indeed work. That's an argument unlikely to comfort the U.S. Republicans, who
have long drawn the line of "compassionate conservatism" at sending money to
But whomever it may irk, the Soros critique is dead-on.
Western aid to date - including nearly $20 billion in vague, huge IMF and
World Bank loans to the national government - has been worse than useless. It
has accomplished nothing, except to subsidize the Kremlin's most marginal
activities, such as wars in Chechnya, corruption and election-railroading;
and now it seems Russian citizens will be paying back these wasted loans, at
a percentage, for years to come.
Soros, by contrast, single-handedly funded his own foreign aid projects to
Russia. For a mere $20 million, for example, his International Science
Foundation distributed $500 to about 40,000 of the nation's best scientists.
The criteria for qualifying was three mentions in top scientific
publications; the money kept those scientists alive for a year. The
foundation sank $120 million more into supporting scientific research.
These projects worked; people still talk about them. No one ever talks about
the IMF or World Bank loans f which represented about 140 times as much money
f except to complain that they have been squandered.
Beyond the Ring Road, Russia is in a classic economic depression. Tax reform,
bankruptcy law and other tinkering are all very well, but reviving the
economy will in the end demand Keynesian solutions f "priming the pump" by
pouring billions of dollars into the hands of ordinary people.
Had the IMF done this, Russia would be grateful, democratic and
market-friendly (and in a strong position to pay off the loans). Instead f as
with Germany after World War I f this task will now be left to the coming
national security state. No doubt it will be accompanied by remilitarization,
much jingoistic talk and dark mutterings about the bloodsuckers behind the
foreign debt burden.
Putin sends perfume to female troops on Women's Day
By Ron Popeski
MOSCOW, March 8 (Reuters) - Acting President Vladimir Putin led Russian men
in showering Russia's womenfolk with gifts and compliments on International
Women's Day on Wednesday, sending sets of cosmetics to female troops in
Russian television showed the packages, topped with yellow ribbons, being
readied at Moscow's Krasnaya Zarya (Red Dawn) toiletries plant. Each was
accompanied by a greeting card.
The top officer in the campaign against Chechen separatists, General Gennady
Troshev, was later shown handing out the gifts, each with a single red
carnation, to beaming women in uniform.
The gesture was part of the country's annual outpouring of speech-making and
ritual praise for women, with heavy emphasis on their roles as mothers and
Putin, runaway favourite to win a March 26 presidential election, had set the
tone a day before in the Kremlin by presenting 20 women with awards and
saying the holiday represented a ``homage'' to Russia's 78 million women.
Not to be outdone was his closest challenger, Communist leader Gennady
Zyuganov, who once said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had
brought shame on all women of the world for a hawkish stance on Yugoslavia
that was ``against nature.''
``Woman is nature's most beautiful, most amazing creation,'' he told Ekho
Moskvy radio. ``But men have not justified the trust placed in them to tackle
the country's problems. How can a woman feel feminine when her husband brings
home a miserable wage?''
March 8 remains one of the most important holidays after New Year in Russia
and other ex-Soviet republics, cherished by women still kept well away from
positions of power.
The holiday was vaunted as a symbol of Soviet-era equality of the sexes, now
dismissed by many as a sham. Soviet women were subjected to heavy labour,
confined to low-paid professions like teaching and medicine and had little
access to methods of contraception other than abortion.
Women still bear the brunt of much post-Soviet upheaval, though some health
and social issues have been addressed.
Itar-Tass news agency published a poll by the ROMIR group saying 57 percent
of respondents agreed that work was ``good but what most women really want is
to have a home and children.''
POSTERS PRAISE WOMEN'S QUALITIES
Posters in Moscow streets have urged men for weeks to remember ``tender and
kind'' wives, girlfriends and mothers.
Men scurried through snow flurries to join queues to buy roses priced at $3
-- more than twice the normal price in a country where average monthly wages
are well below $100.
In the Baltic state of Latvia, where Women's Day was abolished after
independence from Soviet rule in 1991, national radio broadcast a nostalgic
report about the holiday.
But Latvia's Canadian-born President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told a local news
agency she saw no reason to reinstate the holiday despite appeals by leftists
in the national parliament.
Flamboyant Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko greeted the holiday by
announcing widespread cuts in public administration jobs to increase
allocations to health care. Eighty percent of health workers are women on low
He praised women in his country as a ``symbol of goodness, purity and
devotion, an inspiration for poets and painters.''
But he added: ``In general, women are a source of inspiration and joy for any
guy -- that is, if he is a normal guy.''
March 8, 2000
The Cost of Russian Education
By Mila Kuzina, staff writer
The Moscow Education Department plans to implement a 12-year education
program for schools to begin in 2003. The study load will be decreased.
Senior pupils will be entitled to a choice of educational orientation.
Teacher training programmes and the issue of new textbooks will be funded
by money allocated for ‘ 7 million unborn schoolchildren.’
Essentially, the Russian comprehensive secondary education system has not
been changed in 30 years. The Ministry of Education has decided that it is
high time for reform and introduction of a new 12-year system for schools,
says Lyubov Kezina, head of the Moscow Education Department. The pupils’
workload has increased 1.5-2 fold in recent years, and today the
conscientious school pupil spends more than 70 hours per week in class and
on homework. According to Russian health laws, children should not spend
more than 36 hours a week on studies.
However today’s 4-year olds will have more privileges than their seniors.
As from 2003 the school week will be limited to 5 days in all Russian
schools without exception. Another novelty is multiple choice. The new
curriculum will consist of 3 modules. The first module will contain the
so-called ‘federal’ list of subjects, obligatory for all school children.
The second module is ‘regional’. In Moscow this program is already being
implemented in the form of subjects such as the history of Moscow
(‘moskvovedenie’), ecology of the Moscow region, economics and other
subjects, taught only in the capital. The third module shall be the “school”
part. The pupils in 11-12 grades shall be entitled to choose their
educational programmes according to their interests.
The opportunity of choice granted to senior pupils to determine the
orientation of their education (academic, non-academic, natural sciences,
etc) would decrease the cost of entering institutes of higher education, says
Lyubov Kezina. She hopes the planned measures will help decrease the
turnover of the tutorial business. (Private tutorial to assist senior
pupils enter higher education is presently big business in Russia. Tutors
usually work unofficially, charge a lot and do not pay taxes).
It’s common knowledge that it takes not only good knowledge to enter a
prestigious Moscow institute but also a decent sum of money. Take for
example the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), one
of the most prestigious and highly thought of institutes in Russia. To
enter the commercial department of the MGIMO (official tuition fees are
about 5-7 thousand dollars annually), costs several thousand dollars just
for the applicant’s preparation for entrance exams and another 7-8 thousand
dollars to guarantee matriculation, usually paid either through tutors or
via other channels.
The cost of entering the prestigious departments of the Moscow State
University (MGU) is approximately the same. Other departments are somewhat
‘cheaper’. The expenses depend on the kinship and acquaintances of the
would-be student and on the friendly ties of his/her parents with
influential personnel in the institute.
The introduction of military training in schools was also discussed at the
meeting of Moscow Education Department. The acting president Vladimir Putin
has raised the issue many times. At present it looks as if school children
(Muscovites, at least) will not be taught to dismantle AKMs or march in
formation. The ‘Basic Life Security Education’ will be quite sufficient,
said Kezina. The subject might be taught in all grades.
Starting this year, Moscow schoolchildren will be deprived of another
opportunity of “khalyava” (Russian slang word meaning getting something
free of charge). The Moscow Education Department has resolved not to excuse
children from final exams on health grounds. Last year the district
education committees were literally drowned by medical certificates. In
some schools the number of children ‘excused’ due to sickness approached
40-45 per cent. “We cast doubt on the extraction of such certificates,”
says Kezina. From now on, according to the new rules common pre-exam
sicknesses, like poor sight, heart problems or neuroses, will not be
accepted as excuses for not taking exams.
The cost of the reforms has yet to be calculated. Kezina assumes the
financial matter will be settled “by itself”. Advantage will be taken of
the presently low birth rate. By 2004 there will be only 14 million
schoolchildren left in Russia compared with today’s 21 million. The amount
saved on educational expenditures should help fund the implementation of
the educational reforms, both in Moscow and in the rest of Russia.
Will the resources unspent on 7 million unborn children be enough to
finance the education of the 14 million newly born? We do not know. What
we do know for sure is that the reform will hardly escape scandal. The
contracts for new schoolbooks could well cause a corporate war between
publishing houses for the significant amounts of cash involved.
February 21, 2000
By Boris Kagarlitsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[Translation by Olga Kryazheva (email@example.com)
Research assistant, Center for Defense Information]
Old equipment and technologies moved the country close to the borders of
catastrophe. But the fact that human psychological reserves have the same
“terms of expiration” is more frightening. Such terms have expired. What
are we waiting for?
We were getting ready for the war for a long time. We were not going to
fight with Chechens; we planed to fight with American imperialists. Unlike
American, Soviet propaganda stated that it did not believe in the
possibility of limited nuclear conflict; however, everyone who took classes
at school on civil defense knows that they were preparing us for it.
The county’s economy was built in the way that it could survive several
tactical nuclear attacks. Both Russians and Americans expected such a
possibility. Peace comes after exchanging strikes and both sides begin to
restore what remains of the economy.
In the opinion of Soviet experts of the 60s and 70s limited nuclear
conflict would mean the loss of three to five million people, about 40% of
industry, and more then half of agriculture. After this stroke the country
would have produced hardly anything for about two years, it would just
restore the destruction. Taking such prospects into account, additional
surviving qualities were added to every building, the strategic supplies of
raw materials and provisions were prepared. Even buildings were constructed
according to calculation so that military equipment could have fit between
the ruins after bombing. Therefore in some districts the buildings are
located on a certain distance from each other.
Fortunately, nuclear war did not happen. Instead, in the 90s “economic
reform” took place, “shock therapy” to be exact. The results of this
wonderful experiment on us precisely matched the predicted consequences of
the medium power nuclear attack. The natural population decrease approaches
five million, half of the industry and more than half of agriculture are
out of order. Neoliberal editors happily report that the country survived
“the shock therapy.” But this is not the current power’s merit, but the
previous. Yeltsin, Gaidar, and Putin have to thank the communists.
The fact that the “Soviet supplies” in economy and society come to an end
is disturbing. Most of the equipment designed with the service term of
15-20 years and used in our country started to operate in the 60s. Today
nobody cares that all this equipment is outdated. The trouble is that
machines break, pipes burst, and buildings collapse: they also were built
as temporary. After communism in the 80s, “khuscheby” were supposed to be
replaced with stone palaces. Unfortunately, instead of communism first
came Olympic Games, and then capitalism.
The country expects technological catastrophes. Equipment goes out of
order, buildings collapse, planes crash, and management systems break. Most
likely Chechens will be blamed for any accidents to come. Back at the end
of the 70s economists calculated that without massive investments the
country would enter the “risk zone,” and 1999-2003 would be the most
The strategic supplies of food are basically exhausted. Even the military
complains that Soviet reserves are over. It seemed like there would be
enough tanks, military jets, and ammunition for an unlimited number of
wars. And so, on the former USSR territory in the Dnestr region, South
Osetiya, Abkhaziya, Karabakh, Chechnya, Tadzhikestan the military actions
almost never end. Arms are shipped to the hot locations, stolen, sold to
Africa, and explode in storage… The defense complex has not been working in
its full capacity for a long time.
The Last Stop. The Request to Leave
Every machine has limited reserves. So do people. As Soviet experience
shows, people are certainly more lasting. Nails can be made out of them,
but within the limits. If Stalin was right in saying “human resources
determine everything,” then today’s situation does not leave a single hope
for the satisfactory resolution. We don’t have experienced pilots. Those
who know how to fight learned back in Afghanistan; newcomers that replaced
them don’t know anything. There is no aviation fuel and a lack of
experienced officers. Some resigned, some were killed, some became drunks,
and some serve in the “foreign” militaries in Ukraine, Belarus, and
Ichkeria Republic. To make a long story short, the Soviet “military
reserves” are almost exhausted.
The main supplies of durability, which the Russia of Yeltsin and Putin
inherited from Soviet Russia, are psychological. They taught us civil
defense and communist party history on purpose. They taught us to tolerate,
survive, and obey. The Soviet citizen was formed as a certain psychological
type. Our people had to depend on authorities, fight the hardships, and
hope for the bright future. These are three pillars Soviet society was
based upon. The post-Soviet is also based upon these pillars.
The new authorities spend the heritage of their Soviet predecessors.
Ungrateful heirs deny their forefathers, criticize them, and sincerely
believe in their superiority over the communists. Although our “democratic
reformers” criticize “the sovok psychology”, without this psychology they
would be able to stay in power not even for two years. Only our obedience
and tolerance allow them to conduct the exciting experiments on the people.
In 1994 in Mexico after three years of similar reforms an armed rebel
started in Chiapas. Our people had enough courage only to commit suicide in
1998. Yeltsin’s subordinates remained Soviet citizens as well as the
democratic president remained the Obkom secretary. This is the secret of
the success of the new power. People continue to obey, tolerate, and hope.
In the meanwhile, the psychological exhaustion seemed as strong as
technological. The Soviet culture and psychology were produced by certain
everyday experiences. Yes, the “Soviet citizen” outlived the Soviet system,
but for how long? As everyday experience changes, the psychology starts to
change. The new generation formed not by the Soviet regime comes. Ten years
of “shock therapy” were absolutely worth that forty years of Sinai Desert.
Liberal editors had predicted the emergence of the “new person” long ago.
They will see this person soon. They will not like it.
more aggressive; the trust in the government approaches the minimum. The
“new person” is certainly “marketable” in a sense it is able to comprehend
its economic interests (this is the difference between this “new person”
and Soviet consumer, who allowed to be fooled by the tales about heaven
life after the privatization.) But because people learned the basics of
the market economy, they know that they don’t have a chance in the new
Together with trust in authorities, the respect for property and law
decline. The conflicts at the Vyborg paper factory and other enterprises
showed that people respond with violence to the state or individual
violence, absolutely without realizing how it looks from the law
perspective. The Soviet citizen could criticize the authorities as much as
he wanted, but deep in his soul he felt belonging to the system. Today
millions of people feel affiliation with neither state enterprises nor
economic elite. They can’t respect authorities and property because they
are alienated from both.
Here is one more psychological reserve, the fear of “communist revenge.”
For most of the people, who grew up in the Soviet State, the dislike of the
communists became some kind of political instinct or at least something
like a habit. It turned out that in the 90s it was a bad habit, because
the fear of the communist return made people forgive everything the new
elite did. “God willing, there will be no other war!” Soviet old ladies
that survived the Battle of Stalingrad and the Blockade of Leningrad used
to say. “If only communists do not come back!” the liberal intelligentsia
that survived Solzhenitsin’s exile and dissidents trials repeated. They
feared in vain. There could not have been World War III, and “the communist
revenge” was a propaganda myth. But they feared sincerely. That is why they
were grateful to the authorities.
The fear of “the communist revenge” goes into the past. If there is
somebody still scared of it, they are exclusively ruling officials of the
KPRF, who would not want to exchange the comfortable life in the State Duma
for the hardships of the serious governmental work. Everybody knows that
the old system has left forever. The new system that replaced it can be
hardly called democratic. More so, every day the regime
and more authoritarian. But it has nothing to do with the Soviet authority.
But if there is no reason to fear “the communist revenge” why should we
tolerate the authoritarian power of self-sufficient democrats?
Self-deception of Political Technologists
Nothing horrible happens until a certain point. The Kremlin elite wins in
every situation. The experience of the last ten months convinced it that
it could do whatever it wants to people and yet remain unpunished.
It was easy to manipulate naive “sovok” [Soviet people]. The Kremlin public
is still sure that it can solve any problem with propaganda’s help. The
propaganda community now called “piarschiks”, “speechwriters”, and
“imagemakers” sincerely believes in its own almighty power. If there is
hunger in the country, the angle of the president’s smile should be
changed; if many are killed in the war, more ski resorts should be shown.
In addition, the Chief should move more to demonstrate the dynamism of
power. The right choice of colors on the poster, the creatively formulated
slogan, effective video sequence would bring everything to order.
Political technologists sincerely believe in their power. They themselves
falsify the results of sociological research and they are touched by these
results. In practice the propaganda tricks serve not just for fooling the
masses, but for covering the rough election fraud. Not always the election
fraud is implemented by falsifying protocols, counting dead, and putting
extra ballots in the voting box. In many regions people voluntarily vote
as authorities say. This is also the Soviet heritage. Not that they fear
or respect their authorities, it is their habit to obey. It is still there.
If political technologists cover the election fraud, then the results of
the elections planned in advance create an illusion of propaganda
effectiveness. There is some kind of mutual guarantee between politicians,
bureaucrats, and propagandists. Lies, money, and blood connect them.
Unfortunately, the closer their mutual connections are, the more satisfied
they are with each other, the less they are able to comprehend what in
reality happens in the country. In the meanwhile, Russia reminds more and
more of boiling caldron.
Nothing has exploded so far, so directors believe nothing will explode in
the future. I remember a conversation with a White House high official
right after default. “See,” -he triumphed, - “prices increased, savings
burnt, life expectancy decreased by half, and nothing! And nothing will
At the beginning of “the reforms” there was a constant fear of “Russian
rebellion, useless and ruthless” among politicians and liberal
intelligentsia. As it turned out, they feared in vain. The reserves of the
public system, inherited from the Soviet times were not yet exhausted.
Today is different. The Soviet heritage is spent, equipment and buildings
are worn out, and tolerance is on the edge. But the Russian elite, on the
other hand, is sure that everything can be done with “these people.” It
came to this conclusion based on its personal experience during ten years
of “democratic transformations.” Today’s authorities fear each other more
then their subordinates. They fight information wars with each other,
without thinking how the majority of the population takes it. Using
military force, perpetrators try to take enterprises from each other,
although sometimes workers interfere. But this is viewed as some sort of a
side effect: nobody will give power to workers anyway.
Nothing Matters After Elections!
The ruling authorities have learned the double rule very well: things that
the war did not cover, the elections will, or vice versa. One way or
another, people will vote as needed on March 26. And if they won’t vote as
needed, votes will be counted as needed. And nobody thinks what will
After all why hold elections? It is clear that nobody ever held elections
in Russia just to transfer the power. More so, although the elections are
organized not to give an opportunity to people to decide their future
themselves, the elections play a very important role in the new system
formed during the 90s. They should legitimize power, create a feeling of
participation and collective responsibility. In other words, people have
to blame themselves.
During Communist Party times the authorities tried to legitimize their
power by referring to the revolution and to gain the support of the masses
by their socially responsible behavior. The system gave certain life
chances to the masses, but in return masses had to accept the Party’s
political control. The new power, having become socially irresponsible,
needs a different mechanism. We approach the system through elections.
Every time after the elections they tell us that there is no reason to
complain about oligarchy, that we ourselves elected these people, these
rules, and these politics. We have to blame ourselves. On one hand, “there
is no other alternative,” on the other, we have to sign our own verdict.
All this worked for a decade. Nobody from the country’s authorities
understands the reasons why these methods can’t be used for another one or
two decades. In the meanwhile, the situation has significantly changed.
Starting in 1993 with every election, the scale of the election fraud and
coercion is constantly increasing. The larger the scale of the fraud is,
the lesser significance for the mass consciousness are the political
results. We approach a certain psychological edge here as well. People do
not believe the official results of the elections. Therefore, they don’t
feel affiliated with the acting authorities.
Power is perceived neither as personal, nor as legitimate. In the 1990s
Russia somehow accepted Yeltsin. People did not like him, but accepted his
right to rule. People accepted his constant presence. They dreamed about
getting rid of him, but did not believe in this possibility.
Russia does not accept Putin. They can draw as many diagrams as they want
to, publish enormous amounts of ratings, but people still don’t feel the
connection with the new leader or his surroundings. The gap between
Kremlin power and millions of its subordinates has reached the critical
point. The power bases its actions on the “nothing-matters-after-elections”
principle. The elections will score “excellent.” And the flood will come
March 8, 2000
Putin: a man without guarantees
The West is satisfied, but the acting president has few policies
By Aleksandr Golts and Dmitry Pinsker
Itogi is published weekly in Russia. This article was translated by
MOSCOW, March 8 — There are only “X” days left until the election of acting
President Vladimir Putin ... . It’s no longer funny, but newspapers and
television have been regularly repeating the one-liner for more than two
months now. And they’ll going to continue repeating it right up to March 26,
when Putin will finally be able to discard the annoying prefix “acting.” The
inauguration ceremony will not take place until May. But already today both
the election and the inauguration of the new Russian leader have lost the
significance that the participants themselves in the political process
themselves and observers had attached it.
Ever since the re-election of Boris Yeltsin in the summer of 1996,
the subject of a future transfer of power from the first president to the
second has been the theme of numerous debates and seminars. In response to
the bravura reports by Kremlin propagandists about building a truly
democratic state in Russia, skeptics remarked that such enthusiasm would not
be appropriate until the year 2000.
Today it can be confirmed that both the transfer of power from Yeltsin
to his successor and the successor’s confirmation of his rights to power in
the early election will be completely legitimate de jure. But the March 26
voting de facto will be devoid of any substance.
In formal terms, the entire election campaign is proceeding in strict
compliance with the law. There are ten candidates, campaigning and TV debates
are taking place, hundreds of observers will monitor the vote counting in the
election, and the results will, most likely, be consistent with the popular
will. But Soviet-era elections were also completely legal. But that certainly
did not mean they were related in any way to democracy.
Yet the Kremlin sought from the very outset to create a situation in
which the voting would proceed, in effect, without any alternative choices,
so any of the serious rivals would either fail to enter the race or would not
have a chance to get into political shape. This was in fact the purpose of
the action taken on Dec. 31, 1999, when Boris Yeltsin laid down his powers as
head of state ahead of schedule and, after exhorting Putin to take care of
Russia, went into retirement.
Then again, we are well aware that this decision was forced. By making
the Chechen war the main tool of the election campaign and by transforming an
unknown official into the pre-eminent Russian politician overnight with the
aid of this tool, the Kremlin made Putin a hostage of the war. Precisely in
the second half of December, when an attempt to take Grozny right off the bat
failed, it became clear that the mushrooming popularity rating of the prime
minister who had taken on political responsibility for the “antiterrorist
operation” could plummet just as fast by June. By that time the most stubborn
great-power advocates would be compelled to admit that there could be no
swift and bloodless victory. The realization that the country was doomed to
receive coffins from the Northern Caucasus for many years to come could
By making the Chechen war the main tool of the election campaign and by
transforming an unknown official into the pre-eminent Russian politician
overnight with the aid of this tool, the Kremlin made Putin a hostage of the
The timing of the election for the point at which the troop phase of
the operation would be over and a full-scale guerrilla war has yet to begin
fended off this danger from candidate Putin. On the other hand, after he
became acting president and retained the laurels of suppressor of the rebel
republic, Vladimir Putin got a chance to gradually distance himself in the
voters’ eyes from the costs of this suppression.
The name “Putin” was not even supposed to appear alongside news about
heavy losses of federal forces or about the numerous civilian casualties, and
it especially could not be linked to the horror stories that accompanied the
“cleansing” and “screening out” of vicious rebels from peaceful villagers.
Responsibility for “excesses,” when necessary, was to be assigned to the
military and police commanders, and finally on presidential assistant Sergei
Yastrzhembsky. And it should be acknowledged that the political strategists
managed to perform this maneuver quite successfully.
Now Putin could confine himself to dealing with the day-to-day tasks
that face the president and prime minister, while inevitably giving them a
campaign slant. Long-term, “fateful” decisions began to be issued on pension
increases and wage indexing, on student aid and on seeking out funds “in the
immediate future” to keep the Mir space station operational. This was quite
enough for the average voter, who was already charmed by Putin, to recognize
him as the father of the nation.
WHO ARE YOU, MR. PRESIDENT?
Most people would also have found it sufficient to hear pretty words
about building a strong state, about transforming “a rich country of poor
people” into a great power of the wealthy. But the price of achieving the
objective, and whether it would be achieved at all, concerns only a narrow
segment of politically active and responsible voters.
But in late December and especially in January, when Putin had
already moved into the Kremlin, the acting president’s associates were
seriously disturbed by a wave of statements and articles in Russia and abroad
that boiled down to a single problem: “We don’t know who Putin is, and that
in itself is bad.”
The question “Who is Mr. Putin?” rang out loudly at the world economic
forum in Davos. But what made it sound strident was the funereal silence not
only of the head of the official government delegation, First Deputy Prime
Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, but also of Anatoly Chubais, the head of the
joint-stock company Unified Energy System of Russia, who, incidentally,
continues to insist that he does not see a better presidential candidate for
this country. He failed, however, to convince his associates in the rightist
camp of this. The question about Putin’s essence is being asked not only by
Western politicians and businessmen, but also by their Russian counterparts,
as well as numerous journalists and political scientists.
Putin would hardly have gained many additional votes by satisfying the
interest of those whom people in the Kremlin call the “knee-jerk
intelligentsia.” But the endorsement of Putin by rightist politicians, the
press and the liberal public is a kind of seal of democratic quality, a
demonstration of liberals’ confidence that the rights and freedoms gained
under Yeltsin will be fully guaranteed by the new leader. A seal that would
be appreciated in the West. All that was required was a clear and
straightforward answer to fundamental questions.
Where will the country go after the change of power in the Kremlin?
Will the rights and freedoms laid down in the Constitution be guaranteed?
Will the new government build a free market or will it opt for a model of
active state intervention in economic processes? Where does the new leader
intend to draw personnel resources from?
The question about Putin’s essence is being asked not only by Western
politicians and businessmen, but also by their Russian counterparts, as well
as numerous journalists and political scientists.
And finally, is there reason to be afraid of Putin’s KGB past? Will
it lead to the establishment of a dictatorship in the country after the
election, or did Putin reform himself while working for the democratic teams
of [the late St. Petersburg mayor] Anatoly Sobchak and Anatoly Chubais?
Answers to the questions about the nature of forthcoming economic and
political reforms and about measures to ensure economic growth and establish
order in the government bureaucracy were expected to be found in the papers
and reports issued by the widely publicized Center for Strategic Studies,
which Putin’s economic “guru,” German Gref, was assigned to head. But the
institute, which set itself up not at the government dachas in Volynskoye, as
was the case under Yeltsin, but in a fine mansion, Alexander House, on
Yakimanka Street, has so far failed to meet the challenge.
Lacking a clear notion of their client’s real views and wishes, the
scholars tried to square the circle and became entangled in contradictions.
“It turned out to be not an institute that comes up with a clear-cut
framework, but a debating club,” one of the Putin consultants said,
explaining the crux of the problem.
When it became obvious that a global strategy would not be developed
by the election, it was decided to just to do an outline of its basic
propositions in the form of “An Open Letter to Voters.” But the message did
not produce the expected impact, either. It turned out that Putin was
continuing to regale listeners with general ideas that were formulated in
highly streamlined terms. As one of the acting president’s consultants
remarked, “the candidate’s program will please everyone, but no one a hundred
Putin likes to expound on abstract subjects very much. For example, he
enjoys discussing problems of spirituality, morality and mores. “What is
important to the citizens of Russia are the moral principles that they first
receive in the family and that make up the very linchpin of patriotism,” the
Open Letter says.
Another pet theme is the strong state, the dictatorship of the law and
the establishment of equal rights for all members of the market economy.
“It is extremely important to create equal conditions for all
participants in Russia’s political and economic life. We must preclude anyone
from attaching himself to the government and being able to use this for his
own purposes,” declared Putin at a meeting with his confidants after one of
them delicately inquired, “When are we going to whack the leeches that have
attached themselves to the government?”
Added Putin: “No clan, no oligarch should be close to the regional or
federal governments. They should be equally distant from the government and
enjoy equal opportunities.” It was not made clear what means would be used to
achieve the equal distances.
Putin likes to expound on abstract subjects very much. For example, he
enjoys discussing problems of spirituality, morality and mores.
But when highly specific issues come up, Putin has barely made a
definite statement before he qualifies it so much that the meaning of what he
has said is immediately devalued. Putin, of course, supports the
inviolability of freedom of speech, but contends that “there must not be
permissiveness, and mores and morality will serve as the restrictors.” He
supports a free market and the protection of entrepreneurs from high-handed
official behavior, but he sees the need for government regulation.
EXTENDED PRESIDENTIAL TERM
Putin, for example, does not rule out the possibility of extending the
presidential term. He publicly announced this to reporters while commenting
on the open letter from the three governors who, apparently on their own
initiative, proposed in late February a number of measures aimed at a major
reorganization of the system of government. But this issue, Putin feels,
should be presented for nationwide discussion.
Still, it is possible to pick some more specific points from the
torrent of generalities and hollow declarations. “Only an effective, strong
state can allow itself to live by the rules (read: by the law). And it alone
must guarantee freedom-entrepreneurial, personal and social.” It is only at
first glance that this passage from Putin’s letter to voters seem to be the
result of poor editing.
“Our society has not matured to the point of totally grasping
liberal values. A genuinely civil society has not taken shape in our country.
It is therefore imperative that the state intervene more actively in the
processes that are now underway in the economy, in politics and the social
sector,” one of the theoreticians of Putin’s staff told an Itogi
correspondent, interpreting the guiding idea.
It is no surprise that most of Russia’s liberals just cannot make up
their minds and endorse Yeltsin’s successor in the election with concerted
efforts-unlike Anatoly Chubais, who for good reason is apprehensive about the
security of his position as head of the energy monopoly, and Sergei
Kiriyenko, who owes his presence in the Duma to Putin. Yegor Gaidar’s
position in this regard is highly revealing. Publicly the leader of
Democratic Choice of Russia, to whose opinion a substantial segment of the
democratic community listens, has not expressed his feelings about Putin.
Unofficially, however, Gaidar says he does not view the new Russian leader as
somebody who is able to guarantee democratic rights and freedoms.
Another question that, when answered, could undoubtedly shed light on
Vladimir Putin’s true biases is the question of personnel. Who will become
prime minister in his government, who will head up the security structures,
who will determine economic strategy, who will run things in the Kremlin
bureaucracy? There is still no clarity. The political beau monde is feeding
on rumors that the post of prime minister will be offered to Chubais,
Kasyanov, Gref or-the latest rumor-Communications Minister Leonid Reinman.
One gets the impression that here, too, Putin is following the same logic as
in drawing up his program: to intrigue everyone, encourage many, but
definitely not to promise anyone anything.
RELYING ON OLD FRIENDS
None of this, however, affects the shaping of the “inner circle,” the
personal administrative staff, which is supposed to create comfortable
working conditions for the boss. When the Kremlin team proposed to Boris
Yeltsin that he name Putin as his successor, it was calculating that the
former director of the Federal Security Service, who does not belong to any
of the influential clans, would be compelled to rely on them. And as recently
as a month ago all those who have come to be known as the Family were walking
around with heads held high, delighted with their own ability to “steer
through” any situation without any damage to their own position or
reputation. But Putin followed the path of Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov, and
Putin finds it necessary to stress his close relationship with the former
prime minister. Like Primakov, Putin has no other “kinfolk” except a circle
of KGB staffers. And according to officials who have left the administration,
the presence of a new Family is becoming more palpable every day. The recent
patrons of Putin from Boris Yeltsin’s circle are fading fast.
A foreign reporter who turned up at a briefing by Sergei Ivanov, the
secretary of the [national] Security Council, did not conceal his
astonishment: “Damn it, what Leningrad factory churned them out?” Indeed, the
future president’s closest associates look like his twins. Lean, neat, with
an officer’s posture, utterly inexpressive faces and vacant, glassy eyes.
The new power team did not take shape, of course, in St. Petersburg.
The factory where this product was assembled is called the Yuri V. Andropov
Red Banner Institute. That is where cadres were trained for the First Main
Directorate of the KGB, and now for the Foreign Intelligence Service.
Ivanov is not the only one who came from there. Both Federal Security
Service director Nikolai Patrushev and his deputy, Viktor Cherkesov, whom
Russian television has already dubbed Putin’s “alter ego,” have the same
background. The Putinist invasion is already the second influx of KGB people
into government in the past two years. The first one occurred after the
appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister. And Putin’s one-liner at a
KGB holiday party about the large group of intelligence agents who have been
assigned to work in the government will soon cease to be a joke altogether.
The people being promoted to the top Kremlin policy-making roles,
where it is usually believed that a lively personality is required, have no
face and no past. What Putin values is not only how these people view
existing problems, but also how they intend to solve them.
For two months now, that is, since Putin moved into Yeltsin’s former
office in the Kremlin, Putin’s image-makers have been doing all they can to
shape the image of “the most humane human being.” Day after day official
propaganda treats the public to new stories attesting to the boldness and
decisiveness, honesty and integrity of the new leader, who loves his wife,
daughters and poodle, Tosya.
“Probably no one except him really knows whoVladimir Putin is. The
problem is not that he is so secretive. He is just so multilayered,” one of
the acting president’s political consultants mused in an interview with an
Itogi correspondent. “He is well education and highly organized. He is very
responsible. He is an integrated personality. Putin will never do anything
that isn’t organic to him.”
The only thing that could spoil this pleasing image is the hero’s KGB
past. The image-makers tried to make Putin into some likeness of Gen. Oleg
Kalugin. In the early 1990s, the line goes, the man saw how vile the
communist regime was and decisively broke with it. Officials even began to
hint that the KGB lieutenant-colonel was always an internal dissident in that
organization and even contrived... to avoid joining the Soviet Communist
Party. But the evidence did not cooperate.
Then they began to mold Putin into a heroic intelligence agent, a kind
of Soviet James Bond. The broad public was told that while working in
Germany, Lieutenant-Colonel Putin was one of the key figures in the special
group called Beam, which recruited agents both in the G.D.R. and the F.R.G.
in preparation for German reunification. And Vladimir Putin was brilliant in
that role: he was twice promoted and his foreign assignment was extended.
What’s more, it turns out that the secrets of the Eurofighter, the
new-generation NATO warplane, were stolen thanks to Putin. As for the fact
that after all these exploits our hero ended up in the microscopic job of
assistant to the prorector of Leningrad University, this was only because he
himself refused a promotion. That was how outraged he was by the “treachery”
of Gorbachev and Shevardnadze in “giving up” the G.D.R. Now you’ll see: a
little time will pass, and we will yet hear how the director of the
Soviet-German Friendship House in Leipzig (this was Putin’s “legend”) spoke
straight from the shoulder to Gorbachev when the president flew in to consult
The effort to create a legend, however, failed. The myths are finding
any corroboration. Putin is no superagent, but an ordinary bureaucrat for the
intelligence agency. By all indications, the people who are right are those
who believe that the main job of Putin was that, not directly but indirectly,
through his G.D.R. colleagues, he “ran” the electronics engineers who worked
for Robotron and traveled to the West on assignments. Scientists who traveled
abroad in Soviet times remember people with a soft voice who demanded that
they give detailed reports about the Western counterparts they managed to
make friends with and what they discussed at lunch. This kind of work has the
most indirect connection to agents’ work.
“When I see the acting president on television, I instantly recall my
caretaker in counterintelligence,” one retired agent confided in an Itogi
correspondent. “He had exactly the same look when he asked why I came out of
the subway after a conspiratorial meeting three minutes later than was
planned.” The owner of a beerhouse in Leipzig said the same kind of thing
when he spoke with British reporters who for months already have been hunting
in vain for at least some traces of the new Russian leader in East Germany:
“We called him Vladi the spy. It said on his forehead that he was from the
Stasi. And he could stretch out a mug of beer for the whole summer.”
LITTLE KNOWN ABOUT POLICY
Consequently, there is still no one who can say anything definite
either about the future policies of Russia’s second president or about the
methods that will be used to implement these policies.
It appears that only the West is satisfied. While he remains an
enigma, Vladimir Putin has clearly demonstrated that he is ready to give
security guarantees, guarantees that anti-Western rhetoric will not develop
into a military confrontation.
Washington has been promised early ratification of the START-2 treaty,
the implementation of which will not only substantially reduce both
countries’ nuclear arsenals, but will also bring about the final elimination
of “heavy missiles,” which caused the greatest fear among American
strategists. Moreover, during the visit to the U.S. by Security Council
secretary Sergei Ivanov, he indicated that Moscow is ready to seek a
compromise on the question of the future of the ABM Treaty. Putin has also
moved to restore full-scale cooperation with NATO.
The liberals’ interest remains unsatisfied, but Putin apparently
doesn’t care about that: after all, the opinion of such an insignificant
minority can even be disregarded. It is enough for the majority, meanwhile,
that Putin is a new man in power (and healthy and young at that, which looks
especially advantageous compared to Yeltsin), plus he is also a decisive,
strict and fair administrator.
But even now that the game is practically over, Russian analysts and
journalists are continuing to play out the scene from Gogol’s “Dead Souls”
where officials of the provincial town of N are trying to figure out who
Chichikov is, whether he might even be “Bonaparte in disguise.” At least in
the sense that Vladimir Putin’s accession, just like Napoleon’s accession,
signals the end of the revolution and the stabilization of society, which
securely assimilated some of the revolution’s achievements and discarded
The main question that is still unanswered is, on what basis will this
stabilization take place? The Corsican gave France, which had been tormented
by the atrocities of the Convention and the thievery of the Directory, a code
of laws that for a century became a model of liberal legislation. Perhaps
Putin is bringing order and tranquillity to Russia, which is tired of
Yeltsin’s muddled turmoil. But it is not out of the question that the future
president will immediately proceed to the Restoration, that is, the
reinstatement of the key great-power attributes of the Soviet variety. “I
know that eventually Putin will send Russia along the Korean path,” one
foreign analyst remarked in this regard. “What I don’t know is which Korea he
will build: North or South.”
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