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Johnson's Russia List
26 March 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Russia votes for president, Putin upbeat.
2. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Vlad the Enigma rules in Russia.
3. New York Times editorial: The Putin Puzzle.
4. The Sunday Times (UK): Mark Franchetti, Russia's rich await cold hand of President
5. Moscow Times: Sarah Karush, Zyuganov: Elections Will See Mass
6. Reuters: Timothy Heritage, Putin's rise alarms some Russians,others impressed.
7. Washington Post: Fred Hiatt, Another Win for Yeltsin?
8. Los Angeles Times: Gregory Freidin, In the Days of Reform Fatigue, the Policeman Cometh.
9. New York Times: Jack Matlock, Russia Votes: Will Democracy Win?
10. Reuters: Russian local polls along with Kremlin vote.
11. Bloomberg: Russians on How They Voted in Presidential
Russia votes for president, Putin upbeat
By Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, March 26 (Reuters) - Russians voted on Sunday for their second
president of the post-Soviet era in an election Acting President Vladimir
Putin appeared certain to win.
Election officials reported a good turnout among the 108 million voters
across Russia's 11 time zones. They said they expected a final nationwide
turnout of up to 70 percent, well clear of the 50 percent level needed to
make the poll valid.
The main question for Putin, who has given few details about his plans if
he wins a four-year term as president, is whether he will get the 50
percent plus one vote needed to win outright on Sunday and avoid a runoff
on April 16.
Putin, an ex-KGB spy who was little known until Boris Yeltsin named him as
his preferred successor last August, struck a confident pose as he cast his
vote in Moscow. He said he would spend the rest of the day relaxing in the
country enjoying a traditional steam bath.
Asked about his chances, Putin, 47, said: ``In an election battle, one
should always be confident of success.''
But Putin's main rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who lost
to Yeltsin in 1996, said he was confident of getting through to a second
round. ``In the second round there will be two candidates -- Zyuganov and
Putin,'' he said.
Zyuganov cautioned against any possible falsification of the election
results. About 1,000 foreign observers have been deployed across Russia to
ensure the poll is conducted fairly.
Opinion polls put liberal Grigory Yavlinsky in third place.
Putin's supporters hope he will provide stability and security after a
decade of chaos, corruption and upheaval.
He owes his popularity mainly to the military campaign in separatist
Chechnya, where on Sunday Interfax news agency said about 2,000 rebel
fighters had seized the town of Nozhai-Yurt.
The Defence Ministry quickly dismissed the report.
``This is propaganda to make the situation tense,'' a spokesman said.
Hundreds had cast ballots in the town, he said.
CLASHES IN CHECHNYA
Moscow has insisted on holding the election in Chechnya, even though much
of the region has been reduced to rubble and many people rendered homeless
by months of Russian bombardment.
Russia's main spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, later said
troops had clashed with groups of rebels in the village of Tsentoroi, some
20 km (12 miles) from Nozhai-Yurt.
Chechnya was clearly on Putin's mind on Sunday.
``This is important for the Chechen people and for all of Russia because
whoever is elected will know that people voted for him and that he will
bear responsibility for these people and for this republic (Chechnya),''
Putin told reporters.
Putin, who is facing voters for the first time, has vowed to rebuild the
authority of the Russian state while pressing on with market reforms. Some
liberals fear he will roll back hard-won democratic freedoms -- a charge he
Former President Yeltsin, whose shock resignation on New Year's Eve
catapulted Putin into the Kremlin, said as he cast his ballot in Moscow
that he was sure reforms would continue.
``Everyone is waiting for change. There will be some changes but the main
thing is that the reform course must be maintained and it will be. I am
sure of this,'' Yeltsin said.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sounded an equally optimistic note.
``I believe that whoever becomes president, Russia will make every effort
to raise herself,'' he said.
PUTIN VAGUE ON PLANS
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, once a contender for president but now keen to
build bridges with Putin, called for greater cooperation among Russia's
leaders for the sake of the economy.
``Russia does not need any revolutionary shocks...Russia has everything in
abundance except consensus,'' he said after voting.
Voting began in the Far East and then moved westward as 8:00 a.m. arrived
across Russia's time zones. Polls were closing at 8:00 p.m., which in the
westernmost stations, in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, meant 1700 GMT.
First preliminary results were expected shortly after the last polls closed.
Putin, who has been prime minister since August, has said little about his
plans after the election. Even some of his supporters are sceptical about
his ability to restore order in the sprawling, impoverished country.
``Moscow steals, here they steal. People are voting for Putin in the hope
that somehow he will stop it,'' said Nikolai, a sailor who voted for Putin.
``But of course there is no hope.''
March 26, 2000
Vlad the Enigma rules in Russia
By MATTHEW FISHER
Sun's Columnist at Large
MOSCOW -- Polls suggest that between 48% and 57% of Russian voters will
cast their ballots for Vladimir Putin today.
That may well be so. Calls over the past few days to Krasnoyarsk,
Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg and interviews in Moscow found solid but
hardly overwhelming support for Putin.
Putin will win today's vote, or a second vote with today's runner up, which
would be held April 16. But that was decided the moment the Yeltsin clique
chose him. The wonder of it is that given the immense power of the Kremlin,
Vladimir Vladimirovich isn't doing even better.
The acting president has shown he is adept at using the Kremlin to keep well
ahead of candidates who have not been awarded access to the national treasury
and command of the security forces. Putin has also enjoyed outrageously
positive media coverage. He leads almost every television newscast and is the
favourite of most leading newspapers, including a few organizations which
seem to have been visited by friends of the acting president with ties to the
country's security ministries.
He has appeared on television as Vlad the Munificent and Vlad the Relaxed,
Friendly, Good-Humoured and Comical, doling out such presents as a 20% raise
to teachers and doctors; as Vlad the Statesman alongside Britain's equally
shameless self-promoter, Tony Blair; as Vlad the Warrior at the controls -
albeit in the back seat - of a fighter jet; as Vlad the Sportsman at hockey
games and in judo matches and as a Man of Action in a recent travel blitz
that has seen him in a different part of Russia almost every day.
Ironically, this whirlwind of a Russian Everyman claims to be too busy and
too important to be bothered with undignified diversions such as campaigning
for Russia's top job.
Those who had a good run as regional despots during Boris Yeltsin's chaotic
rule have been tripping over one another to ingratiate themselves with the
Kremlin's new czar. It has been painful and hilarious at the same time to see
famously proud politicians such as Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov behave
obsequiously in Putin's presence.
Only last summer Putin was a virtual unknown and Luzhkov a swaggering
would-be president. Last week Putin said Luzhkov would behave, or else. A few
days later Luzhkov was plainly happy to be allowed to stand in Putin's
One of the few to escape with his dignity intact has been former prime
minister Yevgeni Primakov. He was widely regarded as the favourite to replace
Yeltsin until Yeltsin installed Putin in his old job last fall after Primakov
began to ask some hard questions about the financial dealings of Yeltsin's
family and cronies.
Declined to run
Primakov declined to fill out the presidential dance card as an also-ran. He
has withdrawn from public life almost as quickly as Putin has entered it.
Those Russians who support Putin invariably say the same things. They crave
order. They like what he has done in Chechnya where the Russian Army and its
acting commander-in-chief have declared victory while the war goes on.
They hope Putin will whack the sinister instant billionaires who plundered
Soviet state enterprises as they were privatized during the Yeltsin era. They
also want him to be a lot tougher with the West.
It hasn't found much place in the Russian media and has not been much
commented upon elsewhere, but there are many other Russians who dread what
may be in store for them. Some fear that Putin will restrict civil liberties
in a country still infamous for denying them and that he will turn Russia
further inward at a time of unprecedented globalization and accelerated
international economic growth. Mostly, they complain they have no idea who
Their feelings were summed up by a 34-year-old mechanical engineer who has
just applied to emigrate to Canada with his wife and two children.
"I don't know Putin. I don't know what this man did for the KGB. I don't
have any idea how he came to be the favourite in this election. I don't have
any idea what he wants to do with Russia. So I am not happy," Maxim said
before attending an English class.
"It is not that I fear a new Stalinist period. It is that Putin is an enigma
and I am not interested in discovering who this enigma is."
The problem for Maxim, and the millions who think like him, is that many
other Russians are more biddable. They think they've figured out this enigma.
They stoically await the harsh medicine Putin has promised them.
New York Times
March 26, 2000
The Putin Puzzle
Unless the polls are badly mistaken or voter turnout is too low to validate
the balloting, Vladimir Putin is likely to be elected president of Russia
today. He might be best described as a K.G.B. democrat, with all the
contradictions the term implies. Mr. Putin is a hybrid politician, the
product of the recent transformation of Russia from a totalitarian state to a
shaky democracy. Like his country, he seems suspended between Russia's
history and its future, impressed by the benefits of liberty and free markets
yet drawn to the idea of a firm leader who can restore stability. There is
little doubt that he will be a forceful president, determined to reverse
Russia's decline. The question is whether he will do so democratically.
Mr. Putin's rise to power has been improbable. Last August, Boris Yeltsin
impulsively decided that Mr. Putin should be his heir and made him prime
minister. Mr. Putin, the former head of the internal security service that
succeeded the K.G.B., became acting president when Mr. Yeltsin resigned on
New Year's Eve. The primary source of his popularity is the brutal military
assault on Chechnya. Compared with Russia's last two leaders, Mikhail
Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Putin is not a seasoned politician. More
important, he has not shown a decisive commitment to political and economic
There is much that needs fixing in Russia today. The economy is barely
stirring. Commerce is warped by the manipulations of criminal gangs. The
government cannot collect taxes, and a handful of fabulously wealthy men, who
benefited from a giveaway of state property by the Yeltsin government, wield
disproportionate power in the Kremlin. Millions of Russians have fallen into
poverty, and the health care system is near collapse, with life expectancy
for men now only 58 years.
After the dizzying gyrations of the Yeltsin years, a steady hand in the
Kremlin would be welcome. Mr. Putin is smart and articulate and appears to be
a skillful, pragmatic manager. He comes with some democratic credentials. He
has declared his support for "fundamental political rights and human
liberties," and seems to harbor no nostalgia for the suffocating ideology of
Communism, or the terrors carried out in its name. As an aide to Anatoly
Sobchak, the reformist mayor of St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin helped build the
beginnings of a capitalist economy in the early 1990's.
If Mr. Putin chooses to advance reform while protecting the newly won
liberties of the Russian people, and makes government an effective, honest
and compassionate agent of change, he can do much to realize the expectations
raised by the demise of Communism. But his actions thus far suggest he may
take a different, harsher course. The military campaign in Chechnya, directed
with enthusiasm by Mr. Putin, is the most ominous sign. Another source of
concern is xenophobic campaign reporting by the state-owned television
Mr. Putin could prove to be a younger, healthier version of Yuri Andropov,
the hardened K.G.B. chief who briefly served as Soviet leader in the early
1980's and tried to rouse Russia from the coma it had slipped into under
Leonid Brezhnev. In December Mr. Putin pointedly ordered that Mr. Andropov's
bust be put back in a place of honor at the entrance to what was once K.G.B.
headquarters in Moscow. Mr. Putin, who is 47, is steeped in the values and
culture of the security agency, including its emphasis on order, discipline
and the preservation of a strong central government. His dream as a teenager
was to join the K.G.B., and he served the agency loyally for 17 years,
including a tour as a spy in East Germany in the late 1980's.
Mr. Putin has made clear that his primary objectives are rebuilding the
machinery of state power and creating an orderly society. In the American
translation of a series of autobiographical interviews soon to be published
as a book entitled "First Person," he says the ferocious assault on Chechnya
is necessary to prevent the disintegration of Russia. He admires the slyness
of K.G.B. efforts to stifle dissent in the Soviet era and regrets the haste
with which Moscow exited Eastern Europe. He has warned against the
independence of regional governors and seems ambivalent about press freedoms.
There is no model for enlightened democratic leadership in Russia. Mr.
Gorbachev, for all his efforts to remake the Soviet Union, could never
discard his faith in Socialism. Mr. Yeltsin's embrace of democracy was
heartfelt, but his leadership was flawed. Mr. Putin has the chance to be both
democratic and effective. It would be a great loss for Russia and the world
if he followed the K.G.B. rulebook and turned the Kremlin back into a
The Sunday Times (UK)
26 March 2000
[for personal use only]
Russia's rich await cold hand of President Putin
Mark Franchetti, Moscow
Ready to put the brakes on: the cliques that have grown rich amid Russia's
turmoil fear a crackdown from Vladimir Putin when he is voted into the
AS Russia's 108m voters go to the polls to elect a new president today, some
of the country's richest and most powerful men will be apprehensively
assessing their prospects of clinging to both money and influence under
Vladimir Putin, the almost certain victor.
In public the oligarchs - business barons and Kremlin puppet masters who rose
to prominence under Boris Yeltsin, the former president - have declared their
support for Putin.
In private, however, some talk of a "Putin blacklist", others of a "Putin
safe" filled with kompromat, compromising material on the murky methods used
to build their fortunes. "After the elections there will be no oligarchs,"
Putin said at one point during his campaign.
Kremlin sources said last week that after winning over Russian voters with
his ruthless war against Chechen rebels, Putin was preparing for another
battle that would be sure to increase his popularity still further: a
crackdown to break the oligarchs' decade-long hold on the country's crippled
economy and Byzantine politics. Putin's aim is to ensure that true power
resides in the president alone.
Some say his early career in the KGB and his spell as head of the FSB, its
successor, suggest that he may already have the information he requires to
curtail the influence of the oligarchs by mounting damaging investigations
into their business activities.
"All of them are feeling uncomfortable," said one former Kremlin adviser.
"Fortunes were made by bending some rules and cutting some corners, and here
comes a man who is better placed than anyone to know the darkest secrets. He
can have files on anyone and they know it."
The targets could include Rem Vyakhirev, the head of Gasprom, which manages
38% of the world's gas resources, and Anatoli Chubais, a former deputy prime
minister who now runs RAO UES, Russia's electricity board. Both have built
substantial political and financial power bases.
"These are the jewels in the crown," said a senior industry source. "It will
be a battle for Russia's resources and levers of power. But removing
Vyakhirev and Chubais won't be easy. Their companies are only partly
state-owned and both men are well entrenched with the management that would
have to vote them out."
Kremlin sources also indicated that Putin may move against Boris Berezovsky,
the most controversial oligarch and the powerbroker of Yeltsin's regime,
whose business interests range from oil to aluminium, from cars to the media.
Berezovsky, two of whose Geneva-based companies have been investigated by
Swiss prosecutors inquiring into the overseas revenues of Aeroflot, Russia's
national airline, was in defiant mood last week. "Of course arresting me
would increase Putin's popularity. but one thing should be clear," he said.
"No president in Russia, not yesterday and not now, can live without the
support of big capital. Putin cannot decide there will be no oligarchs in
Russia. If anything, their role will increase."
Berezovsky, who secured the release of several Russian soldiers held by
Chechen guerrillas after the 1994-96 war in the breakaway republic, has met
Putin several times to discuss the conflict in Chechnya. Nevertheless, Putin
is expected to act swiftly to take control of ORT, Russia's most popular
television channel, away from Berezovsky - who dictates its political
coverage even though he is a relatively minor shareholder.
Despite a recent dip in popularity, Putin, 47, may win enough votes in
today's first round of the presidential election to secure the majority he
needs for victory. In the latest polls his rating was hovering around the 50%
mark, with Gennady Zyuganov, the communist leader, trailing behind at 20% and
Grigori Yavlinski, the main liberal candidate, at 5%.
Ten candidates are running. Should Putin fail to win a majority, a second
round will be held on April 16. He has said he intends to push for a change
to the constitution that would extend the presidential term from four years
Putin's closeness to former KGB men has raised fears of a trend towards
authoritarianism in the new Russia.
Sergei Ivanov, head of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, head of
the FSB, and Viktor Cherkesov, his deputy and a renowned tormentor of
dissidents in the Soviet era, are all close friends of Putin. Viktor Ivanov,
a senior Putin aide, used to work for the KGB in St Petersburg.
Several leading journalists expect a clampdown on the liberal press once
Putin is elected. Unity, the party backing him in parliament, has proposed
scrapping tax breaks for media organisations that are not due to expire until
2004. The initiative has been widely interpreted as a move to curtail the
power of the press.
Critics have also issued warnings of a creeping "KGB-isation" of the Russian
state. Putin's tendency to secretiveness has already left its mark on
policy-making. Garant, a Russian firm that keeps a database of government
actions, tracked down 1,000 of Putin's official decisions as acting president
during January and February. More than half were classified.
March 25, 2000
Zyuganov: Elections Will See Mass Fraud
By Sarah Karush
As the country prepared to elect a new president, the leading challenger to
acting President Vladimir Putin warned ominously on Friday that the election
results could be falsified.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said Friday he feared "massive
falsification," and was dispatching observers from his party to each of the
country's 94,500 polling precincts, Interfax reported.
For his part, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky will have about 70 percent of
polling stations covered by observers, his aide, Olga Beklemishcheva, said.
Another Yabloko spokeswoman quoted Yavlinsky as saying that overall there
would be 127,000 observers from "united democratic forces."
Beklemishcheva said each regional Yabloko affiliate is responsible for
posting observers at as many precincts as possible. She said sometimes they
share the responsibility with affiliates of other liberal parties.
While virtually every opposition party has made allegations of election
fraud, opinions differ as to where along the process that fraud might occur.
Many, including Zyuganov, point suspiciously to the computerized national
vote-counting system known as GAS-Vybory.
Fraud on the level of GAS-Vybory, however, would in theory be simple to
detect and prove.
Here is how it works: At the end of the day, ballot boxes are opened at each
of the 94,500 polling precincts and the ballots are counted on the spot, by
Observers - whether journalists, or representatives of a candidate or a
political party, or even of a public organization - can be present
throughout. Observers are also given an official copy of the protocol - the
document that reports the results.
Protocols are then sent from each precinct higher up the chain, to a
so-called territorial election commission, and it is at the territorial level
that the results are plugged into GAS-Vybory, based on what the protocols
Thus, if the Communists have observers at each polling station, they ought to
be able to tally up the votes and definitively document any discrepancies.
But while Zyuganov claims fraud after every election, his observers never
offer up any protocols as evidence.
Alexander Yurin, executive director of the Institute for Election Systems
Development, a nongovernmental organization, complained that politicians make
accusations of fraud but do not offer evidence.
Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center argues that fraud does take
place at the level of the territorial election commission via GAS-Vybory.
In a comment posted last week on David Johnson's List, an e-mail discussion
group about Russia, Petrov argued that data from protocols are changed as
they are entered into GAS-Vybory - observers do not watch this data-entry
process - and observers then fail to follow through in documenting that
Beklemishcheva of Yabloko went further, saying the Communist observers
collaborate in election fraud - even when it is at their own expense.
"Last time, in 1996, we were counting on the Communists, but they made a deal
with the government," she said.
Yurin said that the Central Election Commission could improve transparency by
posting each of the 94,500 protocols on the Internet.
Beklemishcheva added that she thought falsification occurred earlier in the
process, however, with ballot boxes simply being switched.
But that would involve having to get around observers who can insist on the
ballot boxes never being taken out of their sight.
And either way - whether by switching ballot boxes, or massaging results
entered into GAS-Vybory - to make a real difference in the outcome would
require a conspiracy involving thousands of willing hands.
"What influences elections, happens before the election," Yurin said, citing
biased media and outright intimidation in rural areas.
None of which rules out some vote-rigging - particularly in places with less
stringent control over the precincts, such as jails, military bases and
During the December Duma elections, at least one prisoner's vote was cast by
Dmitry Neverovsky, who is in jail in Kaluga awaiting trial on charges of
draft-dodging, was denied his request to vote, said his mother, Tatyana
When she complained to the local election commission, she was told that the
protocols showed Neverovsky had already voted.
Putin's rise alarms some Russians,others impressed
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, March 26 (Reuters) - Lyudmila Gosteva rises from the dinner table and
turns off the television in disgust as Russian news shows police breaking up
a rally in neighbouring Belarus.
``That's what it'll be like here,'' she says. ``And pretty soon we're all
going to be making secret reports on each other.''
Gosteva, a pensioner, is voting for the liberal Grigory Yavlinsky in Sunday's
presidential poll as she fears victory for former KGB spy Vladimir Putin, the
front-runner, would mean turning the clock back to the repressive days of
At a supper of mushroom soup followed by carp on the eve of the election, the
side dish is politics. Emotions are stirred by a little vodka and shock at
the television pictures showing the police using batons against opposition
demonstrators in Belarus.
Putin has built up a huge lead in opinion polls, showing how much he has
impressed some Russians. But others, particularly some liberals and
intellectuals, are alarmed.
Tatyana Kuznetsova takes up Putin's cause, reminding the other dinner guests
that Boris Yeltsin backed Putin as his chosen successor when he resigned on
December 31 and that the acting president has committed himself to reforms.
``I don't think Putin will try to push through reforms as fast as Yeltsin but
I don't think Yeltsin would have supported him if he were a dangerous man,''
says Tatyana, a charity worker.
Echoing the thoughts of many people across the country, she adds: ``At least
he's healthy. You may laugh, but I was really impressed when he flew to
Chechnya in that jet.''
Putin, who said he would not campaign so that he could concentrate on his job
as acting president, flew to the southern region in a fighter plane less than
a week before the election to talk to Russian soldiers fighting separatist
Tatyana is in a minority at the dinner table.
``He's Russia's answer to Pinochet,'' says Sasha Yermakov, who runs a
construction firm. Pinochet ran a military dictatorship in Chile for 17
years, during which more than 3,000 people died or disappeared. ``I'm
thinking about leaving the country.''
Nikolai Shevtsov, another Russian guest at the dinner table, says he does not
fear Putin but sees no reason to vote for any of the other 10 candidates.
A market trader who has seen business slump this winter has lost faith in all
``What does it matter who we vote for? We know nothing is going to change.
And it's obvious Putin will win,'' he says.
He is going to put his vote in the box on the ballot paper which allows
voters to reject all the candidates.
After the meal, the guests say farewell, reminding each other to put their
clocks forward to summer time overnight.
Putin has told them this symbolises the start of a new age, but these guests
are deeply uncertain what that means.
March 2, 2000
[for personal use only]
Another Win for Yeltsin?
By Fred Hiatt
Hard-eyed Vladimir Putin is forecast to win today's presidential election in
Russia. If he does, there will be another winner, too--Russia's forgotten
man, Boris Yeltsin. But as with so many of Yeltsin's tactical victories, this
one will come at a sad and sizable cost to the values that Yeltsin once stood
As to the victory, you only have to think back eight months, when Yeltsin was
beset by enemies. There seemed little doubt that if and when he yielded
power, those enemies would turn on him like wolves on a declawed bear. They
would indict his associates, hound his daughter, perhaps send Yeltsin himself
into exile or to jail. His only hope, many believed, was to somehow suspend
the constitution and cling to his Kremlin perch until death.
Looking for a third way, Yeltsin discarded one prime minister after another,
judging each potential successor too weak or too disloyal to guarantee his
protection in retirement. Then he found Putin, a steely KGB veteran wily
enough to cripple Yeltsin's enemies, dynamic enough to win an election and,
it seemed, faithful enough to guarantee the ailing president a peaceful old
age. Yeltsin resigned early; Acting President Putin decreed full immunity for
his patron; the deal was struck.
A remarkable turnabout, all in all. But what of the price? Yeltsin's complex,
contradictory legacy remains to be assessed, and Putin is just setting out to
create his own, so there can be no definitive answer. Yet the contrast in
character and biography is inescapable.
Yeltsin was a Communist apparatchik, but he rose to prominence in opposition
to the system, a proto-populist huffing at, and humiliated by, Mikhail
Gorbachev's Politburo. He defined himself as a man of courage and principle
when he jumped on a tank to rally Moscow's ordinary citizens against a
As president, he was far from a perfect democrat; a tolerance for deep
corruption and two shameful wars against Russian citizens in Chechnya blot
his record, among numerous other disgraces.
Yet at key moments, when many of his advisers were tugging another way, he
chose bravely. In 1996, trailing badly in polls to a Communist rival, he
chose to campaign and take his chances rather than--as his inner circle
advised--finding some pretext to cancel the vote.
He for the most part let Ukraine go its own way, when many Russians wanted
revenge against what they viewed as a wayward province. He found ways, time
after time, to postpone a closer alliance with the neo-Stalinist leader of
And he was, in a very non-Soviet way, willing to live with his enemies. He
and Gorbachev detested each other, but Yeltsin allowed his predecessor to
dwell in peace and attack him harshly--a first in Russian history. Though he
turned his tanks against the parliament-based leaders of a 1993 coup, many of
those same leaders shortly returned to public life, as governors and members
It's hard to imagine Putin being similarly forgiving; hard to imagine him,
too, having a few vodkas with Ukraine's president and then signing away
Crimea and Sevastopol. It's true, as Yeltsin biographer Leon Aron said in an
interview, that Putin may be committed to continuing the removal of communism
from Russian power structures. His election may in fact mark the end point of
Russia's struggle between communism and reform; in that sense, Putin's
election will be a victory for Yeltsin's legacy and not just his personal
safety, Aron says.
But in shaping the nature of a new, non-Communist state, Putin's instincts
may differ sharply from those of Yeltsin in his prime. "At the very least,"
Aron says, "Putin will be more cavalier with all these instruments of
repression that Yeltsin significantly dulled or was reluctant to use."
Already Putin has rejuvenated the old KGB, gone after independent journalists
and harassed environmental activists. He is popular precisely because he
promises to restore order and discipline and Russia's status as a great
power--which Yeltsin is blamed for dissipating. Putin's success as an
anti-Yeltsin serves Yeltsin well, for the longer Putin remains popular and
secure, the less likely he will need to find scapegoats, from Yeltsin's
entourage or elsewhere, as problems arise.
Gorbachev did not choose his successor; he had to watch as Yeltsin, while
protecting Gorbachev personally, dismantled his beloved Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics. Like Gorbachev, Yeltsin leaves power with titanic
accomplishments and colossal mistakes, reviled (like Gorbachev) by most of
Unlike Gorbachev, Yeltsin is ceding power voluntarily, and--if Putin wins--he
will have managed to anoint his successor--a remarkable feat for a leader
with zero popularity in an electoral democracy. Whether he will be happier in
retirement, or his legacy better served, remains to be seen.
Los Angeles Times
March 26, 2000
[for personal use only]
In the Days of Reform Fatigue, the Policeman Cometh
By GREGORY FREIDIN
Gregory Freidin Is Chairman of the Slavic Languages Department at Stanford
and Co-editor of "Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the Moscow
Coup (August 1991)."
STANFORD--'The plumber will come," begins a 1980s poem by Dmitry Prigov,
"and will smash the toilet; the gasman will break the gas stove; the
electrician will do the wiring in. But, behold, the policeman cometh to say
to them all: 'Enough of this horsing around--.' " The poem was eerily
prescient about the course of reform in Russia from Mikhail S. Gorbachev to
Vladimir V. Putin. Was Gorbachev the plumber? Was Boris N. Yeltsin the
electrician? Was the demonic magnate Boris A. Berezovsky the gasman? Or was
it the other way around? As Russians make their way to their polling stations
today to elect their second president, they have no doubt that the policeman
Order is what Russian citizens yearn for, and they have, according to
polls, invested their hopes in a former intelligence operative, a man of
apparent self-discipline but unpretentious in demeanor and looks. What may
have been a liability in a politician in the more charismatic times of
perestroika and post-communist Russia has become in the days of reform
fatigue an invaluable asset. Gray is beautiful.
Putin's reputation as a man of law and order stems from his
uncompromising stand on Chechnya. The current Russian word for chaos and
disorder is bespredel, meaning, a state of existing without limits. Putin
resolved to put an end to bespredel in Chechnya, even at the price of
removing restraints on the Russian army. Most of his compatriots are
relieved: Here is a man who knows how to set limits.
The question is whether Putin will respect the limits that the country's
fledgling constitutional democracy sets on the power of the Russian state.
The fact that Putin served as a KGB officer should not be considered decisive
in a country whose towering reform figures of the last two decades came from
the ranks of the party responsible for the Soviet debacle, including the
Gulag. Other factors seem far more important.
* Putin's election mandate. Putin's margin of victory is expected to be
spectacular, which may, paradoxically, signify a diminished mandate, one
stemming not from the depth of popular support but from the absence of a
credible opponent. With the exception of his position on Chechnya, he has
consistently refused to disclose his intentions as president. He thus bears
some blame for making the race less of a sport than it ought to have been.
Even the support offered Putin--every significant political group or
personality in the country has signed on--conceals a serious liability. By
filling his bandwagon with whomever has been willing to jump on, Putin has
cast himself in the image of the proverbial herder of cats. What can the
Agrarian Party, a state-subsidy addict and, until recently, a coalition
partner of Russia's dyed-in-the-wool Communists, have in common with the
Union of the Rightist forces, monetarists and free-marketers bent on
eliminating subsidies and supporting privatization of land?
* Political base. Who is Putin counting on? For a man who had never held
political office, who made his career in a government bureaucracy and who
wishes to reestablish the authority of the state, the answer is: the state
bureaucracy, including that branch where Putin began his rise, the state
security services. Accordingly, he proposes to raise substantially the
salaries of top- and middle-level government officials, thereby increasing
their status and making them more immune to pressure and bribes.
Putin's faith in the possibility of reforming one of the world's
longest-established corrupt bureaucracies by bureaucratic means gives a clue
to his curious occasional dance with the Communist Party, for example, his
support of the speaker of the Duma, Gennady N. Seleznyov, at the expense of
his free-market allies. Unlike Yeltsin, Putin has no particular ax to grind
against the Communists. Indeed, he cherishes the hope that they will
transform themselves into an association along the lines of European social
democracy and be respectful of individual property rights. Such a
transformation, according to him, should serve to stabilize Russian society
* The oligarchs. Putin's stated attitude toward the problem of Russia's
massive concentration of wealth is to maintain the status quo while making
sure no existing laws are broken. But if Putin's reputation for law and order
is to survive, he will have to deal with that problem and the natural
monopolies in a way that will satisfy the country's expectations for a level
economic playing field.
* Center and periphery. Step outside the capital, and you will hear that
the most missed attribute of Soviet power in provincial Russia are the limits
Moscow used to set on the arbitrary rule of the local bosses. Putin plans to
restore some federal controls and support local government, too, which might
check the power of the heads of regions.
* The press and opposition. Putin's apparent grasp of the importance of
checks and balances in relations between the center and the regions is not
echoed in his attitudes toward political opposition and a critical press.
Russia's public television, ORT, controlled, in effect, by Berezovsky, has
unleashed a sickeningly crude attack on the competing media empire of
Vladimir A. Gusinsky, NTV, which has been openly anti-war. For example, in a
March 23 broadcast, ORT showed Gusinsky's Israeli passport and repeatedly
played a clip of him breaking bread with a group of Orthodox rabbis. The
video aimed to raise questions about Gusinsky's allegiance to Russia and the
legitimacy of his media outlets. Apparently, Putin, who has refused to grant
interviews to Gusinsky-owned media because of their criticism of his Chechnya
policy, does not seem to be too unhappy.
* Who is Putin? The most intriguing aspect of the new political terrain
is how Putin's personality and outlook will, his reticence notwithstanding,
dominate Russia's political culture. The contrast with Yeltsin cannot be more
dramatic. Although both came from a humble background, Putin is decidedly a
product of urban, modern Russia, indeed of its most Western city and imperial
capital, St. Petersburg. It is a telling detail that, while serving as deputy
mayor of Leningrad, as it was then called, Putin replaced the obligatory
Lenin portrait in his office with one of Peter the Great, the czar who
created St. Petersburg.
Yeltsin belonged to the generation of party leaders who were short on
education and long on administrative experience. Putin, who has a doctorate
in law from Petersburg State University, speaks several languages, including
perfect German, and is at home in an intellectual and professional milieu. A
graduate of a construction engineering college, Yeltsin never learned to
speak clearly; Putin, a true Petersburger, articulates every word. Yeltsin
had barely traveled abroad before entering the national political scene.
Putin has traveled to, lived in and feels comfortable with the West. Unlike
Yeltsin, whose father and grandfather suffered in the purges and
collectivization of agriculture under Josef Stalin, and who has firsthand
experience of Stalinist repression, Putin insists he was only vaguely aware
of the Gulag and managed somehow not to connect it to the organization that
recruited him, the KGB. As president, Yeltsin had only a vague sense of how a
market economy operates. Putin learned it firsthand both in the West and as
the Leningrad official in charge of foreign investment. Yeltsin liked strong
drink. Putin, though not a teetotaler, prefers sobriety.
Disciplined and focused, Putin seems to be cut out for a leader
attempting a clean sweep. Many a Russian reformer, beginning with Peter the
Great, has been unmade by this task, too absorbed, alas, to pay due attention
to plumbing, gas and electricity.
New York Times
March 26, 2000
[for personal use only]
Russia Votes: Will Democracy Win?
By JACK F. MATLOCK JR.
Jack F. Matlock Jr., a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, is a professor
at the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of "Autopsy on an Empire."
PRINCETON, N.J. -- If enough people bother to vote today in Russia, Vladimir
Putin is expected to be elected president by a wide margin. What then? Is he
the inscrutable "black box" some observers have described, or even a Russian
Pinochet determined to establish order by whatever means required? Or will he
turn out to be a democratic reformer, eager to get on with the changes Russia
needs to become a just and prosperous society?
Of course, neither Russians nor outsiders can be certain what Mr. Putin will
do. But one guide we might consider is Boris Yeltsin's motives in setting him
on the succession track.
In a meeting in Moscow last December, President Yeltsin's spokesman told me
that his boss was determined to go down in history as the person who made the
restoration of Communism impossible. By the spring of 1999, I was told, Mr.
Yeltsin had become worried that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, his
ostensible successor, had become "too close to the Communists." Mr. Yeltsin
had therefore dismissed Mr. Primakov and named Sergei Stepashin as prime
minister, only to be convinced within weeks that Mr. Stepashin probably could
not win a presidential vote.
So he had replaced Mr. Stepashin with Mr. Putin, the spokesman told me, since
he believed Mr. Putin was the man most capable of winning and preventing any
return to Communist rule or other authoritarianism. Two weeks after the
Kremlin aide told me this, Mr. Yeltsin resigned, which automatically made Mr.
Putin the acting president and moved up the election by three months. There
could hardly have been a more powerful assist to a candidate.
The aide's explanation may have been tailored for the listener. Nonetheless,
the important question about Mr. Putin is whether he is capable of keeping
Russia on the democratic track and devoted to doing so. In that sense, Mr.
Yeltsin's purported judgment seems well founded.
Mr. Putin has condemned Communism, saying, "It was a blind alley, far away
from the mainstream of civilization," and has described his goals as building
a strong democratic state and encouraging growth. He has warned against
"restoration of an official state ideology," adding: "Our people have
accepted such values as freedom of expression, freedom to travel abroad and
other fundamental political rights and human liberties."
His rhetoric on democracy has been unequivocal: "History proves all
dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government, are transitory. Only
democratic systems are not transitory." He has also said, "The main threat to
human rights and freedoms emanates from the executive authority."
His economic prescriptions include encouraging the growth of small and
medium-sized business and reforming the financial system through realistic
budgets, tax reform, monetary stability and the creation of "civilized"
markets. He has called for "integration of the Russian economy into world
economic structures" and, specifically, for membership in the World Trade
He insists that Russia must remain a great power, but he has specified that
"ensuring a high level of people's well-being" is more important than
military strength. He also emphasizes that Russia has nothing to gain from
confrontation with the West and that development will be more rapid if Russia
attracts foreign investment.
Not only has Mr. Putin said the right things; he has also shown a remarkable
capacity for political maneuvering. After backing the hastily organized Unity
Party in the December parliamentary elections, Mr. Putin turned around in
January and arranged a surprise deal with the Communists that effectively
prevented Mr. Primakov from being elected speaker. Although many Westerners
attacked Mr. Putin for reaching out to the Communists, there is no evidence
he made substantive compromises. The Communist committee chairmen will get
their BMW's and their dachas while they may finally back the banking and tax
reforms that they have long blocked.
Mr. Putin's record is not without blemish. A former K.G.B. official, his
reliance on former agency colleagues as advisers raises legitimate questions.
And he has gained much from the support of some super-rich "oligarchs,"
particularly Boris Berezovsky, whose television empire savaged the Primakov
team before the parliamentary elections. However, Mr. Putin craftily blunted
criticism on both these points last week by telling ABC's "Nightline" that
the intelligence officials would be used to crack down on corruption and stem
the influence of those "who take advantage of their proximity to political,
governmental and regional leaders."
Most worrisome is the brutality of the war in Chechnya and the Russian
government's efforts to block objective news coverage and cover up
atrocities. But most Russians consider Chechnya unique. Russian popular
sentiment has long considered Chechnya the most lawless and corrupt region in
the country. No other province is suspected of sponsoring terrorism in the
rest of Russia. Many Russians will condone actions there that would not be
Although Westerners may think the war is the sole cause of Mr. Putin's
popularity, that is not necessarily the case. During recent trips to Moscow
and St. Petersburg, most people I spoke to who supported him praised his
youth, his businesslike manner and his reputation for getting things done.
Few mentioned Chechnya.
Westerners have criticized Mr. Putin's reluctance to talk more specifically
about his plans. (When a Russian magazine asked about his programs, he
replied, "I won't tell you.") But his reasons are obvious. To carry out his
goals, he will have to take on some powerful interests. Why provoke their
opposition before the vote? No Western politician would do so.
The truth is, the changes in Russian society since 1991, including political
decentralization, economic privatization and increasing independence of the
courts, would make it very difficult for any leader to impose Soviet-style
It is time we stopped making Russia the receptacle of either our dreams or
our fears. We should congratulate the people on a peaceful and orderly
transfer of power.
We shall learn soon enough whether Vladimir Putin's supporters or detractors
FACTBOX-Russian local polls along with Kremlin vote
MOSCOW, March 26 (Reuters) - Several Russian regions will hold gubernatorial
and legislative elections on Sunday along with the national vote for
In these and other regions across the Russian Federation there will also be
dozens of runoff votes for central parliamentary seats, local legislatures
Here are details of the main elections:
ALTAI REGION (CENTRAL SIBERIA, BORDERS KAZAKHSTAN)
Early election of the head of regional administration (governor)
Election of the regional Soviet of People's deputies (parliament)
JEWISH AUTONOMOUS REGION (FAR EAST, BORDERS CHINA)
Early gubernatorial election
KHANTY-MANSIYSK AUTONOMOUS DISTRICT (EASTERN SIBERIA)
Early gubernatorial election
KIROV REGION (CENTRAL RUSSIA)
MURMANSK REGION (ARCTIC, BORDERS FINLAND, NORWAY)
SARATOV REGION (CENTRAL RUSSIA, BORDERS KAZAKHSTAN)
SVERDLOVSK REGION (CENTRAL URALS)
Election of the Chamber of Representatives and of a part, by rotation, of the
Regional Duma of the Legislative Assembly (a bicameral parliament where the
two chambers have equal status)
THE REPUBLIC OF TYVA (SOUTHERN SIBERIA, BORDERS MONGOLIA)
Election of 250 single-constituency members of the Great Khural (republic's
YAMALO-NENETS AUTONOMOUS DISTRICT (EASTERN SIBERIA)
Early gubernatorial election
Early election of the regional State Duma (parliament)
YAROSLAVL REGION (NORTHEAST OF MOSCOW)
Election of the regional State Duma (parliament)
Russians on How They Voted in Presidential Election: Comment
St. Petersburg, Russia, March 26 (Bloomberg) -- The following are comments
from Russian voters as the cast their ballots in today's presidential
Yekaterina Kirilova, 69, a pensioner:
``I voted for (Acting President Vladimir) Putin because he will bring order
to Russia and help old people. Putin has already raised pensions and I
expected that he will continue to do so.''
Nadezhda Ilienko, 35, a grocery store worker in St. Petersburg:
``I voted for Putin, not because I like him but because there are no other
decent candidates in the race. He's probably unable to improve life because
Russia's problems are so great. But Putin is a lesser evil than (Communist
party leader Gennady) Zyuganov. We've already lived under communism and I
prefer life the way it is now.''
Svetlana Trofimova, 30, a saleswoman in St. Petersburg:
``I voted for Putin because he's young, energetic and should be able to do
something good for the country. He won't spend his days in the hospital
being treated fro multiple health problems, like the way it was with
Yeltsin. In the end, however, I don't expect much from Putin. Those in
power are far away from our problems and don't understand how we live. The
other candidates just don't have a serious program or are unable to play
the role of a strong leader. Take (Yabloko party leader Grigory) Yavlinsky.
He's been trying for so long to make it in politics, but he never gets
anywhere and has never done anything for the country. The Russian people
just don't believe in what he does.''
Shamil Murzayev, 52, a factory worker in St. Petersburg:
``I voted for Zyuganov because he is for change. Zyuganov is for a social
guarantee so that people will have free medicine, free schooling, and so
that wages will be better and people able to feed and clothe themselves.
Putin is merely the continuation of the old corrupt Yeltsin elite.''
Valeria Smirnova, 34, a graduate student in political science:
``I voted for Yavlinsky because he is the best educated and most
intelligent of all candidates. ``He is a talented economist, and is
Russia's window to protestant Europe. By that I mean he is capable and
willing to build a genuine, western-style, capitalist system in Russia.''