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Johnson's Russia List
22 March 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Communist criticises Putin's fighter jet stunt.
2. AFP: Russia's Putin inherits an impoverished nuclear power.
3. AFP: Kremlin faces uphill task in persuading Duma to ratify
4. AP: David McHugh, Putin Courts Western Investors.
5. APN: Putin should be afraid of the inner circle. (Views of
6. APN: In a month Zyuganov could have beat Putin. (Views of
7. David Rowell: Lessons on reality. (re Cisek on Wedel/4187)
8. RFE/RL: Sophie Lambroschini, Putin's One Theme Is Firmness.
9. Vek: Vek: Yana Lolayeva, JERKY MOVEMENTS CONTRA-INDICATED.
The Kremlin Does Not Criticize the Left, Wishing to Preserve the
10. INTERVIEW GRANTED BY ACTING PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN TO
MAYAK RADIO. (March 19)
11. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Roy Medvedev, Getting to Know
Communist criticises Putin's fighter jet stunt
MOSCOW, March 21 (Reuters) - Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said on
Tuesday that Acting President Vladimir Putin had put Russian national
security at risk by flying in a fighter jet without the country's nuclear
codes on board.
Putin, a former KGB spy whose military tough guy image has made him the heavy
favourite in presidential elections on Sunday, flew in the co-pilot's seat of
a Sukhoi-27 fighter jet to and from the Chechen capital Grozny on Monday.
The Russian secret service officer who always accompanies the president with
the nuclear codes in his suitcase flew in a second fighter jet directly
behind, officials said.
The briefcase, known as ``the red button,'' is one of the most important
symbols of power in Russia.
``First, you have to ask, where is your nuclear suitcase -- you are in charge
of national security,'' Zyuganov told reporters. ``Why do you expose the
country to such a danger? I know many presidents who graduated from military
schools and were pilots and they don't permit themselves such pranks.''
Putin, whose long career in the KGB did not include training as an aviator,
defended the trip.
``In addition to being acting president, I am also commander-in-chief. I want
to see everything myself, to touch, to feel, it would do no harm,'' he said
during a trip to Nizhny Novgorod.
Russia's Putin inherits an impoverished nuclear power
MOSCOW, March 21 (AFP) -
Russia remains a leading nuclear power but acting President Vladimir Putin,
the frontrunner in Sunday's election, faces material shortages which threaten
to further degrade the army's efficiency.
The Russian war machine, despite years of economic decline, has retained its
impressive fire power and a military industry still able to compete with the
The new Russian surface-to-air missiles, the S-300 and S-400, promise to
"create major problems for (air strike) planners for years to come", the
Jane's Information Group warned earlier this month.
They are capable of intercepting "stealth" targets, cruise missiles and
short-to-medium-range ballistic missiles at distances up to 400 kilometers
(250 miles), the group said.
In November, the Russian navy successfully test-fired two Topol-M
intercontinental ballistic missile from a submerged submarine, one of them in
the presence of Putin. With a range of around 11,000 kilometres (6,900 miles)
they will form the backbone of Russia's future defence strategy.
But "as traditional armed forces are declining and funding for the military
is increasingly limited, there remains nothing else but to rely on nuclear
weaponary," said Russian military expert Alexandre Goltz.
The missile developments stand in stark contrast to the daily lives of those
in barracks. A combination of misery and shortages has sometimes appeared to
leave the 1.3-million-strong army on the point of collapse.
Soldiers are undernourished and their salaries are often paid months late.
Thousands of officers live in temporary shelters as they wait for
accomodation and the state still owes millions of dollars to the the arms
During operations in Chechnya, officers complained about a lack of effective
telecommunications equipment and high-precision weapons which would allow
them to face Chechen snipers.
Officials from the air force admitted in January that pilots were reducing
their normal flying time by about a quarter because of a lack of fuel.
These shortages have left the army with recruitment difficulties and problems
in retaining existing personnel. Every year, about a third of officers under
the age of 30 leave the navy.
A poll carried out by the Krasnaia Zvezda military newspaper said that 48
percent of the 1,000 officers it questioned said they wanted to leave the
New hope has come with Putin, who in January said he wanted a strong state
backed by a strong military and vowed to continue developing the armed forces.
The difficulty now is where the funding for this will come from.
International organisations who keep Russia afloat with huge loans are
opposed to any increase in defence spending.
But depite these difficulties Putin has already tried to leave his mark -- a
50 percent increase this year in state orders from the arms industry and a
move to return the navy to the Mediterranean for the first time in four years.
Kremlin faces uphill task in persuading Duma to ratify START II
MOSCOW, March 21 (AFP) -
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged Russian lawmakers Tuesday to ratify before
June the START II arms reduction treaty signed with the United States, but
faced an uphill task in reversing opinion.
Deputies in the State Duma lower house have put ratification of the
much-delayed accord on their spring agenda, but are linking it to a dispute
between with Washington over missile defence.
Ivanov made his plea at a closed door meeting with key members of the Duma's
foreign affairs, defence and security committees, Alexei Arbatov, number two
at the defence committee, told AFP.
However, many of the lawmakers present appeared unswayed, said Arbatov.
Ivanov, flanked by a bevy of senior military officials, argued that
ratification of the accord -- signed in 1993 and approved by the US Congress
in 1996 -- would put pressure on Washington to compromise on other arms
Russia is fiercely opposed to any modification of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty which the United States is seeking to amend so as to allow it
to build a nuclear defence shield covering the entire United States.
But Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin has nonetheless urged deputies
to approve START II to allow progress on a START III accord which would make
further deep cuts in nuclear arsenals.
His hopes were boosted in December by the election of a new Duma in which
pro-Kremlin forces emerged as a powerful force in contrast to the old
Communist- and nationalist-dominated parliament.
Putin Courts Western Investors
March 21, 2000
By DAVID McHUGH
MOSCOW (AP) - Battered foreign investors have pricked up their ears as
Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin talks soothingly about fixing his
country's tarnished business climate and luring back Western investments.
But while Western companies like what they're hearing from the man expected
to win presidential elections on Sunday, nobody wants to open their wallets
until they see Putin back up his words with action.
Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, many foreign companies have tried to break
into Russia's huge, potentially lucrative market of 146 million people. But
instead of profits, most have found corruption, organized crime and hostile
or incompetent bureaucracy.
The last straw for many was the August 1998 financial crash. The economy
stalled and the government defaulted on some of its debts, leaving foreigners
holding $12 billion in frozen treasury bills.
Putin has created a buzz among foreign businesses with his pro-investment
comments. The government, he said at an investment forum recently, ``must
overcome its weakness in everything touching on the protection of private
property, investors and creditors.''
Putin has vowed to get Russia's stalled market reforms moving - promising to
fix the tax system, protect investors' rights, and clean up corruption. It's
a message wary Western companies have been hearing in Russia for the past
``There are relatively high expectations, which we are trying to keep under
control, because expectations are almost never met here,'' said Scott
Blacklin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. ``But
there clearly is an agenda favoring the business community.''
Russia desperately needs investment for new factories and equipment. It
should be an investor's dream - a huge country with an educated population,
cheap labor and abundant natural resources such as oil, natural gas and
But investors, foreign and Russian, lack essential legal protections. Much of
the economy is still mired in Communist habits and many officials don't
understand about market economics or are actively hostile to foreign firms.
Some Russian businesses accept Western investments and then refuse to share
Agreements often can't be enforced by a weak court system where judges can be
bribed. Russian owners sometimes dilute the holdings of their foreign stake
holders by issuing more shares or gutting the company's assets.
In a typical experience, U.S. investors bought the formerly state-owned
Lomonosov Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg, a maker of luxury goods that
was founded in 1744 by a daughter of Peter the Great, only to see its 1993
privatization overturned in the courts. An appeals court later reinstated the
Large swaths of the economy are controlled by politically connected moguls
dubbed oligarchs, who got choice state-owned oil and mining companies for
pennies on the dollar in dubious privatization auctions and then strip them
As a result, capital flows out of Russia, rather than in, at the pace of a
billion dollars a month, according to analysts' estimates. Russia received
just $3.6 billion in direct foreign investment last year - roughly what went
into the Chinese city of Shanghai. All of China took in $40 billion.
Still, the Russia market is too big to ignore. Western companies that have
built factories in Russia include construction-equipment maker Caterpillar,
candy and soft drink maker Cadbury Schweppes, razor-blade and shaving
products maker Gillette, and tobacco, food and beer giant Philip Morris. Most
say they are in Russia for the long haul, banking on future profits to offset
Investors have given Putin a vote of confidence on Russia's fledgling stock
market, up 48 percent since he took over. But with a total value of $36
billion, the stock market is too small to jump start the economy, caught in a
Foreign companies ``have a toe in the water,'' said Blacklin of the American
Chamber of Commerce. ``They could pull their toe back out if the promise for
this government is not fulfilled.''
21 March, 2000
Putin should be afraid of the inner circle
In his interview to APN reporter, Expert Institute director Yeveny Yasin said
what, in his opinion, Vladimir Putin should adopt and what should not from
Boris Yeltsin`s heritage:
«Putin should stick to Yeltsin`s strict orientation to market economy and
democracy. It must be a general line in our life. It was Yeltsin`s mission
and should become Putin`s. One should strive for realisation of decisions
approved; unfortunately, the situation was different in Yeltsin`s times.
What is not worth to be followed? The most important thing is to avoid
influence of someone`s selfish interests on the state head. One should fear
tycoons of any kind circling around President and scheming. Such Byzantine
system had existed under Yeltsin. It should not be remained under Putin.
Politics should become public, be made in parliament, in government but in
21 March, 2000
In a month Zyuganov could have beat Putin
APN reporter quoted Andrei Milekhin, Director of the Association for Regional
Political Research as saying at a news conference that since March 17 to
March 19, 69% of voters were going to participate in voting.
According to the polls, conducted by Association for Regional Political
Research, 19% have not yet decided whether they are going to vote. Among
those who intend to vote 48.4% are going to give their vote in favour of
Andrei Milekhin said that recently acting President`s rating has been
sinking. Gennady Zyuganov`s rating has increased from 24% to 28%. As the
second participant of the news conference – scientific director of the
National Institute for Social and Psychological Research Nikolai Popov –
said, by estimation, in about in a month it could be that Zyuganov`s and
Putin`s ratings proved to be equal.
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000
From: "David M Rowell" <David@Anzac.com>
Subject: Lessons on reality
Dan Cisek angrily finds fault with Janine Wedel (JRL 4187) for her brief
reference to "Some, indeed, believe that the United States set out
to destroy their [Russian] economy". Confusingly, he says that she
evidence to support it, but it is actually footnoted (footnote 2) and she
provides plenty of evidence.
In his response, he confuses two different realities - on the one hand, the
reality of what people actually believe, and on the other hand, the underlying
reality of what really truly may have happened, and why.
I don't propose to debate the issue of whether the US set out to deliberately
destroy the Russian economy. And, at the same time, there is no sense in
arguing what Russian people think, because it is obvious to anyone that
interacts with Russian people at any level, whether in the US, Russia, or
elsewhere in the world (and I interact with Russians in all three spheres),
that there really truly is a growing groundswell of opinion, amongst
intelligent people that "should know better" as well as among less well
educated people, that the US is one of the prime sources of all the Russian
problems. This has been referred to regularly in previous JRLs by a range of
different commentators, and indeed Ms Wedel gives quantitative data to support
her gentle claim.
Are these opinions ascribing blame to the US unfair and untrue? It is not for
me to say. But are they really truly heartfelt and tangibly apparent?
a doubt, and in trying to deny the validity of these opinions, Mr Cisek
mistakenly attacks Ms Wedel for merely reporting on them.
Politicians, more than anyone else, should understand that perceptions
are, alas, often times more important than reality. And for causing the
perception that the US is out to destroy Russia, our incumbent politicians
have a lot to answer for.
Russia: Putin's One Theme Is Firmness
By Sophie Lambroschini
Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin is overwhelmingly favored to win the
presidential election on Sunday, and the main question in the campaign is
whether he will win convincingly enough to avoid a run-off. Correspondent
Sophie Lambroschini looks at the man who has built his reputation by being
tough on Chechnya.
Moscow, 21 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Vladimir Putin's platform is simple: tell
the people what they want to hear. Depending on the context and the audience,
Putin speaks either of his plans to increase state control over the economy
or of his plans to implement market reforms.
Putin began his political career working for the late Saint Petersburg mayor
Anatoly Sobchak. A KGB officer for most of his career, he was head of the
Federal Security Service (FSB) when Boris Yeltsin appointed him prime
minister last August.
Putin refuses to give out details of his plans, saying he doesn't want his
program "picked to pieces" by criticism. To Western audiences, Putin portrays
himself as pro-Western, for example by telling the BBC that Russia could
eventually join NATO someday. But speaking to a Russian audience a few days
later, Putin showed his nationalist side, asking why, if NATO does not
welcome Russia, should Russia accept NATO enlargement?
At times, Putin plays up his intellectual side, stressing his legal
education. Yet he also frequently uses vulgar metaphors and slang, like last
fall when he expressed Russia's determination to put an end to terrorism.
"We will pursue the terrorists everywhere, in airports. If you will forgive
me, if we catch them in the toilet we will rub them out in the john. The
question is closed once and for all. And we have to do this today, quickly,
decisively, with clenched teeth, strangle the vermin at the root."
Only on Chechnya has Putin's policy been clear and consistent. He has
repeatedly said that Russia will pursue the Chechens to the end. Under Putin,
the Russian army has leveled dozens of villages, displaced over 200,000
people, and killed an unknown number of civilians, in addition to losing
2,000 Russian soldiers. Yet the war is quite popular, and Putin's immense
popular largely stems for the perception that he is unafraid to act firmly
and restore honor and dignity to Russia.
But his short track record doesn't bode well for press freedom in Russia. His
government has considerably narrowed journalists' rights to cover the war in
Chechnya. A strictly implemented accreditation system makes it virtually
impossible for journalists to go to the republic unless accompanied by
special military officers on short two-day trips. And the right to quote
statements by Chechen commanders branded as "terrorists" has also been
The fate of RFE/RL's war correspondent Andrey Babitsky served as further
intimidation to journalists. Arrested by Russian forces while leaving Grozny,
Babitsky was handed over in secret to pro-Russian Chechens in a fake prisoner
exchange. Putin later said he approved of this plan, accusing Babitsky of
collaborating with the rebels.
So far, this forceful approach is going over well among Russians. For years,
Russians were partly entertained and partly appalled by the antics of
Yeltsin, who often appeared to be drunk or ill. Putin, by contrast, exudes an
aura of control. His statements always have the same quality of soft-spoken,
almost whispered firmness.
And as he tailors the thrust of his statements depending on who his audience
is, he has managed to win the support of both former communist voters and
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
JERKY MOVEMENTS CONTRA-INDICATED
The Kremlin Does Not Criticize the Left, Wishing to
Preserve the Electorate
By Yana LOLAYEVA
Until now the authorities have never demonstrated their
sympathies with the opponent-party so openly. For its part, the
communist party displays reciprocal feelings - this is
expressed in a more loyal economic program and political
neutrality with regard to Vladimir Putin. According to
communist party spokesmen, alliances with the authorities and
other political forces will be "temporary" and "strategic." In
the opinion of political scientist, Doctor of Economics Iosif
Diskin, Vladimir Putin cannot campaign against the left just
because he is planning to make use of them in the future: "In
actual fact, he is planning to include the communist party in
the political establishment.
According to the book published in Internet, he is out to turn
the communists into a social-democratic party. If, with the
help of administrative resources, a full-fledged party of power
is formed out of Yedinstvo (Unity, or Bear) and the communist
party is held back, we can well get a plaster cast of a
bipartisan system, western style".
With the take-over of Boris Yeltsin's successor, the
picture of even though a formal confrontation between the party
of power and the communist party has somehow unnoticeably
smoothed out for the public. The authorities clearly gave the
voters to understand that their attitude to the communist
party, secret services and nuclear weapons had changed. This
gentleman's set for the former citizens of the Soviet Union
means only one thing - a signal for the revival of the empire."
Even the very first sociological assessments of Unity's
electorate showed that the party of power is mainly supported
by the citizens holding left views. Whether the authorities
themselves have changed their colour will become clear after
the presidential elections. The shock caused by Bear's success
among the former representatives of the political establishment
holding right views was partly cushioned by the impressive
breakthrough made by the Union of Right Forces. However,
already the first session in the Duma showed quite clearly who
is the master there and who is a "political pygmy."
According to the representatives of both parties, the
coalition of Bear and the communist party was "a temporary
strategic alliance." However, later, too, authorities refrained
from building the presidential campaign of their candidate on
anti-communism, as was the case in 1996. If the acting
president looks for support among the left, a conflict is
possible between the former and current political elites. It is
not ruled out, though, that the mutual politeness of the
authorities and the left is due to the deplorable example of
conducting the negative campaign of Luzhkov and Primakov.
"It is the first time in our history that the authorities
conduct a positive campaign," thinks president of the "Russian
Socio-Political Centre" Foundation Alexei Salmin. "This can be
explained by objective reasons: Vladimir Putin controls a large
part of the 'election field,' which borders on both the left
and the right electorate. In the current situation, a clear-cut
campaign would rather be harmful. Putin's electorate is Boris
Yeltsin's electorate of 1991. At that time it consisted of two
parts: the first was anti-communist and the second was
attracted by the first Russian president as a charismatic
leader. However, in 1996 anti-communism was a way to discipline
the electorate and raise the turn-up. In the case of Putin's
electorate, which is a motley crew, any jerky movements would
rather lead to a decline in the acting president's popularity.
At present, nearly the only problem facing the Putin team is
how to raise the turn-up.
TITLE: INTERVIEW GRANTED BY ACTING PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN TO
(ZERKALO RTR SUNDAY PROGRAM, 20:00, MARCH 19, 2000)
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE
Anchor: On Saturday Russia's Acting President Vladimir Putin
gave an interview to the Mayak Radio, to its CEO Andrei Bystritsky.
Bystritsky: What is your assessment of the present
developments in Chechnya?
Putin: As to the military and their statements, we should
treat this calmly. The military are in a process of struggle and,
naturally, every victory scored by them, and they are scoring real
victories there, we know that, causes a certain upsurge of
emotions, positive emotions. And this is good. This is how it
At the same time, there are also things that do not generate
positive emotions in us, quite the contrary. There are tragedies
involving the death of our servicemen.
The question -- what must we do, what is the situation there,
where are we are we to go further? Definitely, this question
exists. It seemed to me that this question was clear to many of us.
If you believe that we should return to this once again, let's do
We have just seen on our TV screens, and I think you have seen
this as well, we have seen this animal that the FSB has brought to
Q: Do you mean Raduyev?
A: I mean the animal going by the name of Salman Raduyev.
There is still a lot of such animals running around there. It is
possible that they can band into packs, snarl back, attack and
inflict certain damage to us. That is true. But there will be no
more organized resistance there. And that is also true.
What should be done in the near future? Yes, since certain
changes have taken place and organized resistance has been broken,
we will withdraw the excessive part of our armed forces. And we
will put on record the fact that large-scale activities of a
military nature are nearing their completion. The military have
spoken about this as well, and this is true.
I repeat, it is also true that militants may band together
into groups, attack, commit acts of terror and so on. This means
that we will leave there that amount of armed forces that will be
needed for the fulfillment of these tasks. We will cut off the
mountain part where the militants are feeling themselves more or
less comfortable, I am putting "comfortable" in inverted commas,
they aren't feeling comfortable anywhere now, from the rest of
Chechnya, in that part of Chechnya we will be carrying out
socio-political activities, we will be carrying out measures to
restore the economy there, to bring back normal life, we will be
strengthening the law-enforcement bodies and the special services.
As to the mountain part where the militants are still present,
we will be carrying out military and special operations there, we
will be finishing them off there.
What choice do we really have? Either we finish them off
there, or we withdraw. What is the choice? There are two variants
of behavior. The third is to enter into negotiations with the
militants, with the bandits, but that would be only a preliminary
stage of the second variant -- withdrawal. We have already
withdrawn from there once. I do not want to describe that as a
crime or to make any assessments, but that was a very big mistake,
a really big one. Perhaps, the people who were pushing us to that
decision at the time, the people who were facilitating that
decision had no idea of what the results would be...
Q: I would like to put a question on another theme. It is
connected with the elections as well. This is something that
greatly concerns society. There is an active discussion now if
there is going to be only the first round of the presidential
elections or if there is going to be a second round as well. What
do you think about this as an active participant in the process?
A: I do not regard myself as an excessively active participant
in the process. You know, I never imagined myself taking part in
Q: We all have to learn something anew.
A: Yes. As to one round or two rounds, of course, when one
joins some sort of a struggle one always counts on success.
Otherwise there is no sense in getting involved in this. I think it
would be best for me if I could achieve this result in the first
Mind you, the elections cost 2.4 billion rubles, of which
about 1.5 billion are allocated for the first round and 1 billion
for the second round, if it takes place. This is roughly as much as
all pensioners in Moscow region, that I visited today, are paid a
Q: So expensive?
A: Yes. This is first. There are a number of politicians who
are prompting society, prompting the population to derail the
elections as such.
Q: Are you referring to the campaign to vote against all
A: Yes. This is nothing but an attempt to derail the elections
or to make a second round necessary. Still best, they think, the
elections should be foiled. What is their aim? As a result of such
actions, the situation in the country will deteriorate, the
economic situation will be worse.
You know, I think this is an immoral stand. As it is our
people have a difficult life. And here we seen an intent to make
this life even more difficult. I think that this stand is harmful
and has no future.
As to my personal attitude to having only one round or two of
the elections, I think that in the long run it is the result that
Q: Yet another problem. It is partly connected with the
elections and partly connected with our country's life in general.
I want to ask you about relations between the state and business.
Some time ago you remarked that you are negative in your attitude
to oligarchs, to be more precise, to what can be described as the
merging of the state and private business, the government and the
private economy. What are you planning to do about this? And what
is the possible fate of the so-called Russian oligarchs?
A: It depends on what we mean by the word "oligarch". If we
mean a representative of big business, this is one thing. We will
cooperate with them just as with representatives of medium and
small businesses, with the owners of medium and small businesses,
as with the trade unions and so on. We will work with all sections
If by oligarchs we mean the merging... if we mean
representatives of groups that are merging or are facilitating the
merging of government with capital, there will be no such oligarchs
as a class.
You see, if we do not create equal conditions for all, we will
not be able to take the country out of its present state. We are
facing a number of major tasks. I mean the fight against poverty
and against crime. These are the two main tasks. The fight against
crime includes a number of sections. One of them is the fight
against corruption. In this sense there will be no oligarchs.
Q: Sorry for interrupting you. I would like to ask about
election campaign promises. Everybody is promising everything now.
Incidentally, some are doubling promises. I heard recently the
promise of one of the presidential candidates to double pensions
and wages. What about you?
A: I have already said in the beginning that I had never
imagined myself taking part in an election campaign. You know,
mostly and mainly because all the modern election technologies are
rather unscrupulous things. They all boil down to the candidate
looking in the eyes of millions of people and making all sorts of
promises while knowing in advance that they are unfulfillable.
I cannot force myself to cross this line. I am very glad that
I have not have had to do this so far. This is largely one of the
reasons why I decided not to use campaign television films, not to
take part in debates and so on.
As to promises, of course, all sorts of promises can be made.
I believe that as chairman of the government and Acting President
I must fulfill those promises that are given in our legislation. In
this case, in the law on the budget. If it is possible to exceed
these promises, this must be done. For instance, we increased
pensions. We promised to index them by 12 percent, but
circumstances permitted us not only to fulfill this promise but to
overfulfill it. We indexed pensions by 20 percent. This is how one
Q: Thank you very much.
Anchor: This was Vladimir Putin's interview to the Mayak
Radio. When the camera was already switched off, Vladimir Putin
told Andrei Bystritsky that he does not rule it out that soon after
the presidential elections a state of emergency may be proclaimed
on the territory of Chechnya. The camera crew was already packing
its equipment, Putin was pressed for time and for this reason this
statement was not filmed. But these words were said and not in a
Roy Medvedev on Putin
11 March 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Article by Roy Medvedev under the "Political Portraits" rubric:
"Getting to Know Putin" -- first paragraph is Rossiyskaya Gazeta
Today's essay by the well-known historian Roy
Medvedev continues the series of political portraits presented on the
pages of Rossiyskaya Gazeta. They include Yevgeniy Primakov, Sergey
Kiriyenko, Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, and other well-known politicians.
Today's article is devoted to Vladimir Putin, acting president of the
Russian Federation and chairman of the government.
Politics or Political Technologies? [subhead]
Not only the history of our country in the 20th century but also the
histories of Western democracies -- unless we count the great revolutions
of 1789 and 1917 -- cannot show such a rapid promotion of a political
leader which, moreover, is approved by the country, as we are observing
today in Russia. The elevation of national leaders in all countries
occurred as a rule as a result of a complex and lengthy political
struggle which, in conditions of totalitarianism, could be bloody.
At any rate it was not easy for Yeltsin to assume power. It is
sufficient to recall not only the events of 1990 and 1991 but also those
of 1993 and 1996. We cannot see anything like this in Russia in
January-March 2000. The presidential election campaign is ending
virtually without a struggle, and it is proceeding a lot more calmly than
the State Duma election campaign. Both Zyuganov and Yavlinskiy have
been unable to mount a serious challenge to Putin, and Yevgeniy Primakov,
who was possibly his main rival, withdrew his candidacy back at the start
of the campaign, not wishing to waste his time and energy in vain. At
the same time Primakov expressed his sincere respect for Putin. This is
understandable because both are after all advocates of a strong state,
patriots, centrists, and people with a sense of order and duty.
Moreover, Putin has almost not relied on any mass movements and parties
during the last few months, and the Unity electoral association, which
was created in the fall, is only beginning to create its own structures
and program documents and is itself more in need of Putin's support.
People often and not without reason compare politics with the
theater, talking about the stage and masks, directors and rehearsals,
roles and prompters. There have been cases in the life of the theater
when a famous actor has suddenly fallen ill and has been unable to go on
stage in front of an already packed auditorium. In order not to cancel
the performance the director and his assistants have had to urgently make
up an unknown understudy for the main role. But, to the surprise of the
director and the audience, the understudy has played a difficult role
even better than the main performer, and this has made him instantly
famous. This is a common scenario for Hollywood musicals but we are
encountering it on the political stage in Russia perhaps for the first
time. Therefore, more convincing arguments are needed here than merely
a reference to inspiration, talent, luck, the ability of a professional
intelligence officer or the skill of a champion in one of the martial
arts, although all these factors have had an influence on the appearance
of the "Putin phenomenon."
Putin's ill-wishers have said and written a lot during the last few
months about "the artificial inflation of his popularity numbers" and
about the skillful work of sundry image makers and speech writers, who
have apparently created the image of a strong leader for us. According
to an assertion made by the Zavtra newspaper, Vladimir Putin is "a
political myth created by PR campaign specialists." There is no sense
in refuting in detail this rubbish. Putin's success, as both the
premier and acting president is not the product of any new political
technologies, and his high rating is the consequence of his policy, state
activities, and those political decisions which he made independently,
assuming full responsibility for this in the process. But it is not the
PR people who make the political decisions, and that sincerity in
displaying his feelings which is inherent in Putin cannot be the product
of political technologies. Yeltsin was often compared with Ilya
Muromets [Russian folk hero], who distinguished himself both by his
idleness and on the battlefield. But Putin was no dissident hero either
under Brezhnev and Gorbachev or under Yeltsin. He has described himself
more than once as a military man and official and assumed the duties of
prime minister and later of president, in obedience to a decision made in
the Kremlin that he perceived as an order. But back in the fall of 1999
and particularly after 31 December the situation took shape in such a way
that it was Putin himself who was supposed to formulate and issue orders.
He did not shirk this responsibility and turned out to be a highly
capable "boss" and subsequently politician. Putin began to work not
only with documents and problems, proving to be a man of action who
fulfills his promises and commitments. At the same time Putin's
activities were not planned beforehand in accordance with some kind of
clear aims. Back in September and October 1999 he had to work in
difficult situations that arose unexpectedly, and he acted entirely
successfully in these conditions. In the final analysis Putin is not
the first person in the Yeltsin team to receive unexpected promotion.
However, no political technologies helped the other candidates seeking to
be Yeltsin's successor.
On the Role of the Individual in History [subhead]
Many political observers are forced to conclude that V. Putin's
activities almost fully meet public expectations and even demands, the
main one being the demand for order and the expectation of a strong
leader who is capable of ensuring this order. Putin himself has
referred several times to the demands and expectations of the Russian
population, explaining the reasons for his decisions. "I consider
myself to be not a messiah but an ordinary Russian guy who has the same
feelings as any Russian citizen. Evidently people sense this and
support me," Vladimir Putin said at the start of his career as prime
minister. The newspaper which cited these words considers them strange
for a high-ranking Kremlin official who was supposed to have forgotten
about the needs and interests of ordinary people long ago.
In this case we can recall the well-known Marxist postulates about
the role of the individual in history that Georgiy Plekhanov expounded so
convincingly more than 100 years ago. One of these postulates says:
When public needs and national interests cannot be satisfied without the
appearance of a hero, that is to say, a person capable of seeing further
than others, desiring more than others, and doing more and better than
others, such a person usually appears. But this does not occur
automatically. The right person may not appear at the right time and in
the right place. Second, the right person may not cope with those tasks
which history and circumstances set before him. Third, he may abuse the
trust placed in him and the power that he has acquired by beginning to
solve some problems of his own, not national problems. Unfortunately,
there have been quite a few such examples in the 20th century. Very
many people have put their faith in Vladimir Putin, and we must hope that
he will be able to justify this trust. At any rate he has already been
able to help effectively resolve one of Russia's most difficult problems,
that of Chechnya, although this knot has had to be severed and not
untied: There was simply no other solution. Everything that Putin's
opponents proposed in this regard could have only tightened even more
firmly the entire knot of Chechen and Caucasian and, therefore, Russian
problems. As a result, in the opinion of political expert Leonid Ionin,
Chechnya has turned out to be a lever with which Putin has begun to turn
all of Russia as well.
Time Is on Whose Side? [subhead]
The authors of many articles have written about Putin's "solitude."
"One Hundred Days of Solitude" -- this is how Marina Volkova from
Nezavisimaya Gazeta entitled her article on Premier Putin's first 100
days, noting that "Vladimir Putin is the biggest human and political
enigma among Russian premiers." It is possible that Putin was
relatively lonely in that almost sterile Kremlin environment, in that
"palace" collective in which he worked from 1996. At the same time he
did not even make much of an effort to get himself noticed: It was
easier to live and work in that way. Putin did not demonstrate his
aspirations earlier either, in Anatoliy Sobchak's administration and
entourage, although he had to resolve major economic problems there [St.
Petersburg] and deal with the international ties of a huge city.
However, generally speaking, Putin is not alone today. He is supported
not only by a large number of patriotically-minded officials and military
people but also by a significant part of the remaining Russian
population, including the intelligentsia. In this case Putin has become
as it were the focus for the crystallization of everything that would
have been called in the past "the healthy part of society." This has
not occurred in Russia for a long time.
In the same newspapers and magazines that in August and September
wrote about "the cold and empty eyes of the former KGB officer" and "the
person without a face" we can read today about Putin's attractiveness,
even his charm, his intelligent look, his resourcefulness, and his
kindness. But the question concerning Putin's program and ideology
naturally worries many people. As recently as in the summer of 1999 we
knew almost nothing about him. However, the talk about "a blank sheet,"
"a black box," and Putin's "economic incompetence, which was heard so
often in the fall, was unjust. If we know little about the state
official, he cannot be reproached for this. An educated lawyer who
completed a postgraduate course in economics, a candidate of economic
sciences, a well trained intelligence officer and German specialist, an
expert in judo, which is not only a sport but also a system of values and
rules of behavior, Putin is all of these things. Vladimir Putin
acquired his great experience and knowledge as an expert in market
economics when he was still working in St. Petersburg, helping to attract
major investment there. In the Presidential Staff he was responsible
for ties with the regions and subsequently headed the Main Control
Administration. By the time he was appointed to the post of premier he
was far better trained than such predecessors as Ye. Gaydar and S.
Kiriyenko and had considerably more all-round experience of working in
market conditions than V. Chernomyrdin had by December 1992.
V. Putin made public many of the tenets of his program back in 1999,
for example, in his report on the implementation of the budget over nine
months, which was Putin's own report on the first 100 days of his work.
There were quite a few other speeches and interviews. The main tenets
of Putin's program and his articles and letters to voters were published
in February and March, and the majority of sensible people do not object
to these documents. True, Obshchaya Gazeta and some other publications,
which have actively supported G. Yavlinskiy for a long time, described
Putin's program as "a program for simpletons." I am not going to get
involved in this discussion. Nevertheless an economic program for
Russia is a program for everyone and not only for those sophisticated,
conceited intellectuals with an elitist mentality who surround
Yavlinskiy. The concepts of "moderate liberalism," "liberal
conservative," and also "advocate of a strong state" and "enlightened
patriot" apply perfectly to Putin's program documents. Putin's ideology
is not so severe that it can be defined unequivocally. He is no
doctrinaire person like Yavlinskiy, no radical like Gaydar and Chubays,
no reactionary like Zyuganov, and, of course, no revolutionary and
obscurantist, of whom there are still quite a few in our political life.
Every major world power has its own ideology, but it cannot be set forth
in the form of such a rigid document as the Constitution. It is
precisely Putin who has shown himself to be an effective centrist, and
his agreements with parties and groups which consider themselves to be
"centrist" or which speak about themselves as "right of center" or "left
of center" are wholly possible. But it would be better to judge and
speak about all this after the election.
Many people are afraid of Putin's success and elevation, and a
significant part of the press is against him, trying in every way
possible to deflate and to disparage the "Putin phenomenon," not wanting
the choice of Yeltsin, who gave a big boost to Putin's career, to become
the people's choice. In the opinion of political expert Avtandil
Tsuladze, V. Putin is not even a politician but "an energetic novice
among second-rate officials, whose promotion became possible only because
Yeltsin and his regime had exhausted the entire reserve of political
'stars' in their personnel policy." Tsuladze believes that "the main
reason for the success of this new generation of people promoted by
Yeltsin is their assiduity, great capacity for work, iron grip, lack of
any ideological precepts, pragmatism, and toughness." There is a
certain element of truth in this assessment but it is not mostly true.
You can also meet in the press ruder and even more malicious comments
about the "Putin phenomenon." For example, Itogi magazine chief editor
Sergey Parkhomenko wrote back in November 1999: "The wonder and triumph
of Putin are built not only on the blood of innocent people who have
perished in Chechnya as a result of bombing and shelling while the
bandits calmly set up their camps in the mountains. Not only on the
persecution of refugees who are starving in Ingush camps while companies
and battalions of terrorists go off on leave to expensive restaurants and
hotels in Baku, Tbilisi, and Istanbul. Putin's success is also based on
a cold-blooded policy aimed at exploiting the gloomy shadows residing
somewhere in the hidden corners of the public awareness of 'everyday'
nationalism, the cruelty of the herd, and vindictiveness compounded by a
feeling of impunity characteristic of any crowd. This carnival of
hatred can be stopped only by planes carrying military coffins because
the latest triumphant politician will not survive serious losses among
the federal troops." It is strange that in this article full of lies
and hatred S. Parkhomenko still calls the Chechen gunmen bandits.
Some columnists warn their readers that Putin "is with us for a good
long while." But very many politicians, influential financiers, and
well-known journalists cannot conceal their burning desire to somehow
stop the new leader and cannot wait for the fall and collapse of Putin
and his "terrific popularity numbers." "People are expecting a lot
today from the premier," Liliya Shevtsova, a political expert from the
Carnegie Endowment, wrote on the eve of the New Year. "But the greater
people's expectations are today the greater the disappointment in the new
ruler will be tomorrow. The public mood is very fickle and it cannot be
ruled out that already in the very near future instead of an 'iron
Feliks' the people will want to have a peace-loving and kind leader
capable of building bridges, including in Chechnya." "Time is not on
Putin's side," columnist Ilya Milshteyn wrote back in the fall. "During
the last few weeks his popularity has reached its peak, the voters are
enthusiastically clapping their hands, his rivals are confused, and the
ruble is just about standing its ground. It is well known what lies
ahead: The war will stagnate, the people will be bewildered, the
opposition will rally, it will be impossible to dissolve parliament
before the presidential election, the economy will fall into an abyss,
[Putin's] rating will decline, and his charisma will fade dramatically.
Some more time will pass and it will be explained to the public that it
made the wrong choice." "People are expecting a lot from Putin,"
Aleksandr Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic
Assessments, noted. "But these expectations not only do not coincide
but are mutually exclusive. But Putin will have to define his position,
which means that the number of disappointed people and shattered
illusions will increase. It is necessary to act now, before the
election. So that before the election Putin may make fairly influential
enemies for himself, and they will not fail to act."
It is possible to continue with these forecasts. But there is no
sense in questioning all these gloomy forecasts and expectations now
because the Russian people themselves are to give their response
regarding the strength or weakness of the people's support for Putin's
policy 26 March 2000.