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Johnson's Russia List
31 March 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: STARVING RUSSIAN GETS TWO YEARS FOR `A LA CAT' MEAL.
2. The Nation: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Who Is Putin?
3. Moskovsky Komsomolets: Yavlinsky’s Failure Doesn’t Mean The
Failure Of Russian Democracy.
4. Reuters: After poll, Putin and West must tackle Chechnya.
5. The Moscow Tribune: John Helmer, PUTIN'S PICKS -- What Putin's
cabinet choices really mean.
6. AFP: Putin's Kremlin ready for "radical reform" says advisor.(Gref)
7. Washington Times: Alec Rasizade, Napoleon complex. Putin plans
his Russian Revolution.
8. RFE/RL Job: Broadcast Director, Uzbek Service.
9. The Economist (UK): The chaos at the door. Russia’s new president
is now confirmed in power. He will need both luck and judgment to turn his country round.]
STARVING RUSSIAN GETS TWO YEARS FOR `A LA CAT' MEAL
March 30, 2000
A court in Russia's Nizhny Novgorod region on Thursday sentenced a man to two
years' probation for killing and eating a cat, the Russian news agency
The Dzerzhnisk town court was told the man was starving when he caught the
cat, which was a family pet, in the street.
The concerned family began looking for the animal after it disappeared, and
were able to trace the abductor with the help of eye-witnesses. It was,
however, too late for the animal.
The family took the man to court over the incident.
April 17, 2000
Who Is Putin?
By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Russia's third presidential election, on March 26, should have been
historic-the first democratic transfer of Kremlin power via the ballot box.
Instead it was, as some Moscow analysts argue, a "coup d'état" engineered
to protect the oligarchs and corrupt officials left behind by Boris Yeltsin
when he resigned. Insofar as returns can be trusted, the voters did not
deliver a mandate for any economic program, in a country that remains mired
in the worst depression of modern history. Indeed, Vladimir Putin flatly
refused to reveal his domestic policies prior to the election.
Putin's success was attributable not just to popular support for his brutal
war in Chechnya but also to the state-run media's portrayal of him as the
anti-Yeltsin-young, sober, physically robust and in charge. Putin's
campaign slogan, "Democracy is the dictatorship of law," adroitly captured
Russians' yearning for order, their disenchantment with democracy and
freedom, which they associate with economic pain, turmoil and corruption.
As acting President and as a candidate, Putin tried to be all things to all
people-a Praetorian to the oligarchs who created him; a Pinochet to the
entrepreneurial class that wants markets and private property imposed on
the country; a kind of Franklin Roosevelt to the impoverished millions who
demand social justice in the form of restored entitlements and improved
standards of living; and a patron to the military and security forces,
whose budgets he's promised to increase.
Who is the real Putin? He is a President who now must make choices that
will define his leadership. A key test will be how he treats the tycoons
who control most of Russia's richest and most profitable assets, especially
its natural resources. Will he continue Yeltsin's protection of the
oligarchy? Or will he seek legitimacy through an assault on it and
high-level corruption? It is a misperception that the Russian state is too
weak to strike at them. The man who unleashed his security forces to raze
Grozny can make war on a handful of plundering oligarchs.
On the one hand, Putin is the oligarchs' creature; on the other, he no
doubt understands that if he is ever to bring about Russia's economic
recovery, the state needs the enormous wealth the oligarchs have seized in
the name of "privatization." The potential benefits of repatriating the
wealth that has been taken abroad illegally-between $150 billion and $350
billion, according to some estimates-far exceed all the empty promises of
Western foreign investment and burdensome loans. Putin seems prepared to
use the state's power to collect taxes, pay back wages and pensions, and
mobilize internal resources for investment, which is a start. Poverty in
Russia, as he has emphasized, is "mind-boggling."
The votes of those millions of poor Russians contributed to the Communist
Party's strong showing (despite being virtually banned from state-run
media, its candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, received nearly a third of the
votes), refuting the Western axiom that it is moribund. Putin's unusual
public acknowledgment of the Communist Party's strength and his admission
that the Kremlin has failed to address the problems of the poor and working
class suggest that he may extend his alliance with the Communists in the
Parliament (a deal struck this past January) to the government he will soon
form. If so, as a price for their participation, the Communists will surely
demand action against the oligarchs-probably some measure of
What kind of political system will emerge under Putin? The accession to the
presidency of a former KGB agent, who spent his formative years in a
service that stands for the very antithesis of democratic openness, is
troubling. There was little in the campaign to reassure the West of his
commitment to basic liberties. The use of the state media to smear liberal
reformer Grigory Yavlinsky by playing on anti-Semitism and homophobia had
ominous overtones. And Putin's contempt for an independent, critical press
was obvious in the rough treatment accorded to the Radio Liberty journalist
Andrei Babitsky, whose mistake was reporting the truth about Russian
brutality in Chechnya.
For now, the restabilization of Russia's disintegrating nuclear
infrastructure and arsenal must be Washington's highest priority.
Far-reaching disarmament agreements must be negotiated and programs for
Russia's denuclearization seriously funded. For the same reason, nothing
should be done to provoke Russia under Putin into building more nuclear
weapons-no further expansion of NATO and no building of a National Missile
Defense system that would revise the ABM treaty. So far, the signs are not
good. Although Putin has urged the new Duma to finally ratify the Start II
treaty and has re-established relations with NATO (broken off after the
Kosovo war), Washington continues to push for NATO expansion and unilateral
revisions to the ABM treaty. And at informal talks in Geneva this past
January, Defense Department officials opposed a Russian offer to reduce the
number of warheads on each side to 1,500 in the future Start III talks.
Above all, the stability of the world's largest nuclear country depends on
its economic recovery. Washington should now respect Russia's ability to
decide what constitutes constructive economic policy rather than arrogantly
impose conditions. Both Washington and Moscow must understand, after nearly
a decade of lost opportunities, that without economic recovery and social
justice for the dispossessed, there will be no stability, democracy or
pro-Westernism in Russia.
Russia Today press summaries
March 30, 2000
Yavlinsky’s Failure Doesn’t Mean The Failure Of Russian Democracy
It’s difficult to understand why the failure of the Yavlinsky-Savostyanov
bloc (5.84%) in the presidential election is to be considered the failure of
Russian democracy. It is only Yavlinsky who lost but he always looses.
Actually, Yavlinsky was appointed the banner of liberal democracy only
recently and only by select media sources. Because in reality this banner is
too multi-colored. Never were democratic parties able to convince the Yabloko
leader to give up his personal ambitions in the name of a common cause. And
after such a defeat, a sensible politician must immediately leave big
politics. While Yavlinsky has stated that he wants to create (and possibly
head) a wide democratic coalition. This is not a good idea it’s obvious
that greater than 5.84% of Russia are democratic people, and they didn’t want
to vote for Yavlinsky. And they probably didn’t vote for Zyuganov, either.
Why, then, must Yavlinsky be called the banner of Russian democracy? Only
because he really wants to be?
Yavlinsky’s idea concerning a democratic coalition is dictated by the danger
of an oncoming dictatorship. But can Putin really become the oppressor of
democratic freedoms? Maybe he can. But is he planning to and does he want to?
So far we can’t tell from his actions. After all, Putin was recommended to
the Russian society by Sobchak, Yeltsin and Chubais, so it’s hard to believe
that he can be a lover of despotic regimes. Plus, it’s hard to believe that
only 5.84% of Russian citizens are against dictatorship.
In any case, it’s a little too early to start a fight against dictatorship.
If it’s necessary, we’ll come to the White House like we did in 1991.
ANALYSIS-After poll, Putin and West must tackle Chechnya
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, March 30 (Reuters) - The war in Chechnya provided the springboard for
Vladimir Putin's meteoric rise to the Russian presidency but it could bring
him down to earth just as quickly.
Western leaders, who muted criticism of Russia's military campaign before
Sunday's vote in an effort to keep relations with Putin on an even keel, have
sent clear signals since the vote that they now want a swift change of policy
But ending the war with victory only half-complete would frustrate Russia's
armed forces, open Putin to criticism from his political opponents and puzzle
There is no easy way out for Putin and probably no way to resolve the
conflict without upsetting either his domestic audience or foreign leaders.
``Chechnya will be a serious problem for Mr Putin for a long time,'' said
Yevgeny Volk, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation think-tank in Moscow.
``It is likely to develop into a classic guerrilla war that will last a very
That is not good news for Putin, or for the West.
NEW WESTERN RESOLVE?
Western leaders hinted at a new determination to persuade Putin to end the
six-month-old conflict in their messages of congratulations after Putin's
election win. Almost all referred to Chechnya, underlining the West's
The depth of the international community's resolve, often weak over Chechnya,
remains questionable. U.S. President Bill Clinton failed even to mention
Chechnya when discussing policy on Russia at a news conference on Wednesday.
But some Western officials say that, with the election out of the way, Putin
has more room for manoeuvre over Chechnya than at any point since Moscow
launched the war and the international community should push hard for changes
``We must stick to our principles,'' Gilbert Dubois, acting head of the
European Union's delegation to Russia, told Reuters.
``Symbolically this is a new era and I hope it will allow Mr Putin to change
his views and to try to find an acceptable ceasefire and open serious
negotiations as soon as possible...The ball is now in Mr Putin's court.''
Failure by Putin to respond would dent hopes of a new beginning to relations
with the West, which became strained in the last years of Boris Yeltsin's
It would also damage his chances of attracting substantial foreign investment
to Russia and limit his flexibility in negotiations with the West on other
At the same time, the West will be anxious not to alienate Putin completely,
and risk driving Russia closer to China or rogue states such as Iraq.
NO EASY SOLUTIONS
Putin's political needs have changed now the election is over. But that is no
guarantee he is about to change policy on Chechnya, even if a long campaign
would drain resources needed to finance reform of the economy.
``It (the war) is painful, yes, but the people consider it justified,''
Colonel-General Valery Manilov, a senior military officer, said this week
when asked why voters favoured Putin despite the loss of some 2,000
``That's the key to understanding this phenomenon -- why the people supported
him, why they voted in such large numbers.''
Putin will do all he can to keep that support. But the longer the war goes
on, the harder it will be to avoid Russian casualties mounting and public
enthusiasm for the war waning.
A quick final victory would be attractive but risky, and maybe impossible. It
would require an all-out military push which might please the Russian army
but would probably cost many lives and involve a degree of force unacceptable
for the West.
A more likely scenario is a long struggle to root out the last Chechen
separatists at the risk of frequent guerrilla attacks. Manilov said such a
campaign could last 10 years.
``Of course everyone wants to end this quickly, but we won't be rushed,''
That is certainly not what the West is looking for, and the message from
Moscow since the election is at best mixed.
The chief of General Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, took the unusual step
on Wednesday of saying a Russian colonel had been arrested for allegedly
raping and killing a Chechen woman.
The move appeared intended as a sign to the West, which wants independent
investigations into reports of human rights abuses in Chechnya.
In another gesture to the West, which has demanded greater access to Chechnya
for international officials and observers, the Russian authorities look
likely to allow United Nations human rights chief Mary Robinson to visit the
region next week.
But Putin's first personnel decision after the election was to retain Defence
Minister Igor Sergeyev, widely interpreted as a sign of continuity in
Chechnya although Sergeyev would be an easy scapegoat if the tide of the war
Putin's first acts after the vote also included pinning medals on Russian
soldiers who fought in Chechnya and telling Interior Ministry troops they
were a ``guarantee that this region will be freed of the bandits and peaceful
life restored here.''
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000
From: "John Helmer" <email@example.com>
Subject: PUTIN'S PICKS -- What Putin's cabinet choices really mean
The Moscow Tribune
March 31, 2000
PUTIN'S PICKS -- What Putin's cabinet choices really mean
>From John Helmer in Moscow
It will take the new President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, at least another
month to decide whom he will choose for his prime minister and new government.
In Russian villages, they say that if you want to ride in the farmer's cart,
you must join in his song. So listen carefully now, and you will be able to
hear, not only which voices are desperate to be heard, but also what tune
they think Putin wants to hear.
Already, those who want to hang on to their positions have announced their
intention, as Central Bank chairman Victor Gerashchenko put it, not to
resign. Those aspiring to be picked, like the ever-hopeful governor of
Saratov, Dmitri Ayatskov, have gone on state television to explain
coquettishly how they have been summoned for a meeting in the Kremlin.
Kommersant -- a newspaper which has not improved on its reputation since it
was bought by Boris Berezovsky -- disclosed this week that
it had been given an official document, listing Putin's choices. These are
better understood as Berezovsky's selection. Accordingly, it can be
understood that his desire for prime minister is Mikhail Kasyanov; for
first deputy prime minister Alexei Kudrin; for deputy premiers, Alexei
(Agriculture), Yuri Shevchenko (social policy), Leonid Reiman (science and
technology), and Ilya Klebanov (industry policy); for Minister of Economy,
German Gref; for Minister of Finance, Victor Khristenko; and for Minister of
Interior, Sergei Ivanov.
Since all of these people are currently serving in the government, their
selection, if confirmed, would mean that Putin means business as usual, and
will continue to obligate himself to Berezovsky and his minions. It should
also mean that the president is not yet sure enough of himself, or
of his political base, to take any initiative likely to risk the pact he made
with former President Boris Yeltsin, his family, and cronies.
If the new president insists on packing the government with men from St.
Petersburg, as the Kommersant list also suggests, there is no hope of an
anti-corruption drive to satisfy the hopes of most Russians and foreign
investors in Russia. All that will happen is that a new gang of raiders
will fasten upon the state's resources to feed, instead of the gang that
were nurtured under Yeltsin.
The alienation from Moscow -- apparent from Putin's double failure to win a
majority of Moscow votes in the parliamentary and the presidential
elections -- will also continue, and deepen.
Kasyanov is a problematic choice for two reasons. He is identified by Russian
businessmen as too close to Roman Abramovich, the Yeltsin family banker and
controller of Sibneft oil company, as well as the two largest aluminium
producers, Krasnoyarsk and Bratsk. Kasyanov also faces serious allegations in
the press that, while a finance ministry official, he benefitted personally
from decisions he took on bond redemption payments.
If Putin means to keep his distance from the oligarchs, who control most the
country's wealth, let alone destroy them as a class, as he said recently, he
cannot appoint Kasyanov.
Kudrin and Khristenko have the appearance of technocrats from years of
in the Finance Ministry. But their patron has been Anatoly Chubais, and if
Putin reappoints them, he has made a behind-the-scenes alliance with Chubais,
the man who did more than anyone to cause the financial crash of August 1998.
That would preserve continuity with all of the so-called reform efforts of
the Yeltsin period. Which is to say, grand larceny by the banking sector, and
pauperization of the rest of the economy.
The Economics portfolio is not half as influential for economic policy as the
Finance Minister or the Central Bank chairman. It is a relic of the State
Planning Committee (Gosplan) of the Soviet era. Nowadays, it is the door
through which industry lobbyists must pass to secure government favours. The
largesse it can distribute is much more limited, however, than the feeding
trough provided by the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank.
So far, Gref, one of Putin's St. Petersburg favourites, has done little
open the door for everyone to appeal to Putin for support of their economic
policy advice. Gref's statements on Putin's behalf are vague enough to allow
everyone to hope for precision that will favour their interests. The
Economics Ministry is just the place for him, but he is not a decision-maker.
If Putin cannot renovate the leadership of the Finance Ministry and the
Central Bank, then he will allow the two biggest law-breakers in the Russian
economy to continue their uncontrollable business. The Finance Ministry has
never carried out its functions in conformity with the laws enacted by
parliament. It regularly violates the budget law. It also conceals its
operations to a degree that is incompatible with the spirit, as well as the
letter, of the Russian constitution. It has been the loyal accountant to the
mob that stole the state.
The Central Bank is no better, and if the records of its transactions were
ever to be fully audited, and made accountable to parliament, then the
illusion of its statutory independence could be replaced by something much
more effective. Putin has met recently with men who are suitable candidates
to run the Central Bank. They are men who are honest; who are not
responsible for the theft of state assets in the past; who didn't profit
from the crash; and who do not view the Central Bank as a commercial
venture run for the benefit of its own officers.
To them, and to Putin, Gerashchenko has announced it will be over his
dead body, threatening a fight. If Putin favours Gerashchenko, there can be
no clean-up where it is most required -- the Russian banking sector.
The published rumour that Putin intends to appoint another St.Petersburger,
Sergei Stepashin, as the new head of the Accounting Chamber, Russia's
independent state auditor, is a song in the same key. The Accounting
Chamber is the only dedicated corruption fighter in Russia whose reputation
remains intact. It is the nearest Russia has to the Untouchables -- the
legendary federal American agents who were able to break up Crime Inc. in
Chicago and New York 70 years ago.
Stepashin has been irreversibly compromised by acts of commission and
omission during his terms as head of the Federal Security Service and the
Ministry of Interior, and as Prime Minister. He isn't untouchable, and if
Putin taps him, it will threaten the Chamber even more than Yelstin could.
Putin's Kremlin ready for "radical reform" says advisor
MOSCOW, March 30 (AFP) -
Vladimir Putin is ready to implement radical reform to revitalise Russia's
stunted economy, a Kremlin policy think-tank chief said Thursday as he gave
the first broad hints of the new president's plans.
"There is today in Russian the political will" to implement "radical
reforms," said German Gref, who heads the Centre for Strategic Studies set up
by Putin to plot Russia's development blueprint.
Gref said the 10-year strategy planned to ensure Russia's conversion to a
full market economy, saying only drastic action could free the economy from
the shackles of the Soviet-era.
"Russia is right now in such a state that it doesn't respond to the classic
measures employed in the rest of the world," said Gref, adding that the pace
of work had been stepped up.
The plans include a sharp reduction in taxes including abolition of a tax on
turnover, a key demand of business leaders, said Arkady Dvorkovich, a finance
ministry expert and another centre member.
Tax rates will also be slashed as well as social security charges, and there
will be changes to the tax base and tax exemptions, he said.
The fiscal revamp will be phased over a number of years along with reform of
the country's creaking pensions system, said Dvorkovich.
Economists say that easing Russia's crippling tax burden would help increase
the finance ministry's tax haul by reducing fraud, one of the biggest
problems confronting the government.
Putin, elected to a four-year Kremlin term on Sunday, has to date sent mixed
signals on the economy and his policy pronouncements have contained few clues
about where he plans to take Russian economic policy.
He has pledged to combat poverty and tackle social problems with threats to
cut off the powerful business tycoons' access to the levers of powers, but
talk of stronger state regulation has made foreign investors nervous.
The new Kremlin chief chaired an economic strategy group comprising members
of the centre, the government and the Kremlin administration on Thursday,
Putin Thursday set up a task force to coordinate the work of the three
branches, said Gref. It includes First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail
Kasyanov, the finance minister and favourite to become cabinet chief;
Alexander Voloshin, the Kremlin chief of staff; and Deputy Finance Minister
Alexei Kudrin, a Putin friend and fellow native of Saint Petersburg.
Interfax quoted Kasyanov as saying that the president-elect had urged all
three parties to speed up their work on the economy blueprint, which Gref
said ran to more than 300 pages.
Details would be published once Putin names a new government following his
inauguration, some time in May.
Outline budget plans for the next four years have also been drafted by the
policy unit, said Gref.
Meanwhile, Stanley Fischer, number two at the International Monetary Fund is
due to take part in a seminar in Moscow next week at the invitation of
Yevgeny Yasin, a senior member of the Gref centre.
Gerard Belanger, the top IMF official for Russia, will also attend reported
Interfax, citing Martin Gilman, the Fund's representative in Moscow.
Putin has on several occasions called for an improvement in relations with
international institutions, notably the IMF which last September froze loan
payments to Russia.
30 March 2000
[for personal use only]
Putin plans his Russian Revolution
By Alec Rasizade
Alec Rasizade is a senior associate at the Historical Research Center.
Since Sunday's election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, analysts
and foreign policy planners have been searching for clues as to what is on
the mind of this curt man. For a historian of modern Europe, however, the
answer is obvious, as it takes only one glance at the history of France over
200 years. The modern history of France is known for its classical clarity of
the stages of the political process. It provides a lesson in what we should
anticipate in the case of post-totalitarian Russia.
Similarities between Napoleon Bonaparte and Vladimir Putin are not
limited to facial features and short stature. Matching is the time of their
arrival on the political scene and the social need for a statesman of this
caliber. Separated by the distance of 200 years, the circumstances in
post-revolutionary France and post-communist Russia are strikingly similar,
for, notwithstanding all the technological progress, the nature of man and
human society has changed little, if at all.
An old historic axiom holds that, after a period of revolutionary
change, inevitably comes a period of reactionary consolidation or
counterrevolution. The political leader of such period is to be of the
statecraft represented in contemporary Russia by Vladimir Putin, like it was
exemplified by Napoleon in France 200 years ago.
The great Russian historian Eugene Tarle wrote in his biography of
Napoleon that, if it had not been General Bonaparte, the French people and
the social requisites of post-revolutionary France would have found another
leader of exactly the same type among the bevy of young French generals
propelled to the highest military ranks in the period of revolutionary wars,
including the bloody civil war in the province of Gironde.
Likewise, the accession of Mr. Putin was largely carried on the support
among Russians for his prosecution of the civil war in Chechnya. More
important, Russian society as a whole is tired and exhausted of the political
and economic upheaval, as were the French 200 years ago. The Russians need
the stability and predictability of strong government rule to rise from the
abyss of social-economic plight into which the post-communist reforms had
cast them. Had the conditions in Russia been more stable than they were in
1999, it is probable that Mr. Putin would have lived out his days as no more
than a diligent KGB officer.
But we have seen that conditions in the past decade were exceedingly
chaotic. Corruption, profiteering and financial ruin added to the woes of a
people already bowed down by the miseries of a lingering transition period
and the national humiliation of an imploded superpower. So profound is the
mood that the millions who supported the Chechen war would welcome a new
autocracy as the only hope of relief.
The same mood resulted from the decade of terror and turbulence during
the French Revolution of 1789-1799. When Abbot Sieyes, one of the members of
the ruling Directory who actually called Bonaparte to power, was asked later
what he had done to distinguish himself during the revolutionary terror, he
responded dryly, "I survived."
In some respects, the Russian liberals and reformers have become victims
of their own success. Both reformist leaders who plucked out of obscurity and
promoted Mr. Putin to the Kremlin prominence, are now gone, symbolically
closing the decade of reforms: The ex-mayor of Saint Petersburg and his
former law professor Anatoly Sobchak died recently, and his former boss
President Yeltsin abruptly resigned one month before.
Mr. Putin's election as the legitimate president will signify the end of
the tumultuous period of Russia's democratic change and the commencement of a
period of consolidation of the Russian state. Similarly, in the fall of 1799
the Revolution in France came to a close with the 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9) coup
d'etat of Bonaparte. Russia is ready for the same fate; if not Mr. Putin,
another strongman shall be called to complete the work of history.
We don't know much about Mr. Putin, but we know almost everything about
Napoleon. No matter how shrewd, egotistical and unscrupulous he was, he knew
that the people were tired of disorder and corruption, and that they longed
for the return of stability and welfare.
Like Napoleon, the energetic Mr. Putin is going to deal what in effect
will be a final blow to the transition period with all its features, as we
knew them under the Yeltsin presidency. In general historic terms, Mr.
Putin's ruling period may be regarded as the initial stage of the Russian
popular reaction against the liberal ideals which had made all those great
changes, but ruined millions of lives in the 1990s.
Mr. Putin has already revealed his ambivalence toward democratic
principles and practices, believing perhaps that Russia might have to
sacrifice part of democracy in the short run to achieve more important
economic, social and state consolidation goals. His real aim is to preserve
those achievements which comport with national greatness and the military
glory of Russia, and will continue those accomplishments of his predecessors
which he can adapt to the purposes of concentrated government.
Mr. Putin has said in an open letter to voters that, after having a
popular mandate, he would not continue to tolerate the circle of prominent
financial magnates known in Russia as the oligarchs. His pledge echoes the
want of an overwhelming majority of the Russian people. As for the former
Soviet republics, the resurrection of Russian nationalism will demand a
revision of internal borders of the former USSR hastily disbanded by the
three Slavic presidents in 1991. Rebuilding Russia as a great power, Mr.
Putin will begin to reassert its influence throughout the former USSR's
territory, but without restoring the unitary state with all its mounting
problems. He is smart enough to understand that Mr. Yeltsin's rationale in
getting rid of peripheral indigenous republics is irreversible.
Having no certain political ideology, Mr. Putin has a certainly
predetermined place at the helm of contemporary Russia, for he is the type of
leader that history has unerringly chosen for this role at this time,
regardless of whether we like it or not.
From: "Donald Jensen" <JensenD@rferl.org>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000
Would appreciate if you could post the following on the JRL. Interested
can also contact me directly.
Broadcast Director, Uzbek Service
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts in 26 languages in Central and
Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. We are
currently seeking to fill the following position to be based in Prague,
You will oversee the operation of the broadcast department, the Tashkent
bureau, and a world-wide network of freelance reporters, ensuring that the
news output, information and feature programs are balanced, and in
adherence to RFE/RL policy and the highest standards of journalistic
integrity and accuracy. You will be responsible for program development and
implementation, editorial control, and administration of the department's
The ideal candidate will have a minimum of 10 years professional journalism
experience including work in a fast-paced, international news organization,
relevant work experience in one or more Central Asian country, broad
knowledge of political, economic, and social structures of Central Asia
and the rest of NIS, as well as strong general knowledge of international
affairs. A proven ability to develop, present, and implement effective and
innovative solutions to complex technical and operational problems under
tight deadlines is essential. Proficiency in Russian language is a definite
We require a university degree in journalism or related field, or
equivalent practical work experience in a related discipline, as well as
native-level spoken and written English, and proficiency in Uzbek language.
We offer excellent salary and benefits including relocation, housing, and
comprehensive health insurance.
To apply please submit detailed resume and cover letter outlining
qualifications and salary requirements to:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: +420-2-2112-3420 Post: Human Resources
Recruitment, RFE/RL, Inc., Vinohradska 1, 110 00 Prague 1, Czech Republic.
Deadline for submissions is 1 May, 2000
No telephone calls please. RFE/RL is an Equal Opportunity Employer
committed to workforce diversity.
RFE/RL is also seeking native Uzbek speaking journalists to contribute on a
freelance basis for our Uzbek language service.
The Economist (UK)
April 1-7, 2000
[for personal use only]
The chaos at the door
M O S C O W
Russia’s new president is now confirmed in power. He will need both luck and
judgment to turn his country round
FIRST impressions of Moscow’s international airport provide a good gauge of
the state of the country. In Soviet times, it was like a police station.
Under Boris Yeltsin, it became a slum. Recently, it has smartened up a
little: the duty-free shops offer more choice, parking is less anarchic,
two-hour waits at passport control are much rarer. On the drive into town, a
huge gleaming outlet for Ikea, a Swedish furniture shop that opened in Moscow
last week, exemplifies the hopes of foreign investors in Russia.
In relative terms, then, an improvement: the sort of thing optimists cite
when arguing that Vladimir Putin, elected president last Sunday with a
comfortable 53% of the vote, can restore his country’s fortunes. For all the
jolts of the past ten years, the market is at work; standards are rising.
Given the chance, Russia too will root itself in the capitalist, democratic
Pessimists notice other things at the airport. The waits are still long,
confidence tricksters rife; the taxi mafia are no less thuggish, still
charging five times the proper rate for the ride into town. Ikea has
struggled for nearly two years with obstructive and corrupt bureaucrats to
get the store open. In any normal country, foreign investment on this scale
would be welcomed with flowers and champagne.
Compared with other well-educated, industrialised countries, Russia is
dismally poor. Average wages in the country of Sakharov and Rostropovich are
around $65 a month—less than the cab ride from the airport to town. In
neighbouring Estonia, occupied by the Soviet Union for half a century but
independent again since 1991, they are now around $300.
Russia’s economy has shrunk almost every year since the collapse of
communism. Output has fallen by about 53% in ten years, according to official
(and notoriously dodgy) statistics. Even allowing that much of what the
Soviet economy produced was junk or useful only to the armed forces, living
standards have fallen for the vast majority of the population. The physical
infrastructure is decaying: hospitals, roads, prisons, schools and railways,
with the exception of a few prestige projects in Moscow and other better-off
cities, are in a shamefully bad state. Russians are badly fed, badly dressed,
badly housed, badly treated.
The clearest sign of decay is that Russians die young and have so few babies.
The population is now smaller by 6m people than it was a decade ago. Murray
Feshbach, an American demographer, believes that worsening health and
continuing poverty may reduce Russia’s population, currently 143m, to as
little as 80m by 2050.
Social misery is matched by political gloom. Corruption is blatant, crime
endemic. The rich and powerful are above the law. The two main television
channels are slavishly pro-government; most of the regional media, both print
and broadcast, are in the pockets of local political leaders.
Independent-minded journalists and nosy pressure groups are likely to be
Then there is Chechnya. Hopes that the previous war there, in 1994-96, had
cauterised Russia’s imperialistic instincts have been dashed. This conflict
is even bloodier than the last; and this time, despite international protests
about acts of brutality, public opposition has been minimal. The government’s
argument—that invasion was the only possible response to the bombings of
apartment blocks and the invasion of Dagestan last summer, all supposedly
orchestrated from Chechnya—has so far failed to convince most outsiders. It
has proved effective at home not because of logic or evidence, but because of
the deeply-held feelings of victimhood that most Russians share.
The war has also coincided with a marked remilitarisation of society. New
decrees have reintroduced military training in schools, abolished in 1989,
and restored mandatory training for reservists. The rules on conscription
into the armed forces are tightening, as is the definition of official
secrets. Senior military figures are more visible at public events. With the
arrival of Mr Putin, old KGB hands have become more influential. The
government has announced a 50% rise in spending on military equipment—and
this in a country that cannot pay its foreign debts or feed itself.
Put out some flags
Yet there are also cheerful signs. Chiefly, the economy is picking up: growth
last year was, if you believe the official statistics, a record 3.2%.
Foreign-currency reserves are rising by around $1 billion a month. Inflation
is under control, more taxes are being collected, the rouble is stable, and
public finances are looking remarkably healthy, at least by Russian
Most important, there is now a clutch of well-managed Russian-run big
companies. That would have seemed a contradiction in terms five years ago. In
most industries, there are now one or two big firms that are gaining market
share by making better, cheaper products. Most, such as Baltika, a
Scandinavian-owned brewer in St Petersburg, stick to the domestic market; but
a few, such as Severstal, a steel producer in northern Russia, or Kaskol, an
engineering conglomerate, are managing to produce high-quality goods for
export. There are successful small companies too, for example in software or
fashion, whose spark and innovation are a world away from the clunky monsters
of the Soviet era.
The people working in such enterprises are perhaps the single most hopeful
sign of change to come. Well-educated, open-minded, well-travelled, they are
a kind of Russian that has barely existed for three generations. So far the
country has mostly failed to exploit their talents: Russian organisations
tend to be slow-moving, hierarchical places. Yet Mr Putin, who is 47, has
several youngish people round him. And although the first wave of youngsters
in senior positions has proved disappointing so far, a generation that barely
remembers the Soviet Union can hardly fail to change Russia for the better.
Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist, says that even before the first reforms
he expects from Mr Putin—of government, the tax system and land ownership—the
economy is already much stronger than current statistics suggest. The pain of
the August 1998 financial crisis, when Russia defaulted on its debts and
devalued the rouble, has forced managers to start running their companies
properly and turn their attention from financial fiddles to exports. “There
is a massive qualitative improvement,” Mr Aslund says. Add good political
leadership to Russia’s other advantages—a cheap and talented labour force,
huge amounts of idle industrial capacity, generous natural resources—and
there may be a vigorous economic revival.
Or it may be a mirage. After a 75% devaluation, it would be amazing if local
producers of goods such as fertiliser, steel and textiles did not enjoy
something of a revival. Roland Nash of Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based
investment bank, notes that although more cash is flowing into Russia, a
large amount still flows straight out again; investment, despite a blip
upwards at the end of last year, is still minimal. Even the Russian companies
now touted as success stories do well mainly because of high tariff barriers
and cheap energy, rather than because their management and products are
The economy is also sustained by high prices since early 1999 for oil and
other raw-material exports, which create a remarkable trade surplus (about
20% of GDP). As a result of devaluation and inflation, the $5.5 billion the
government raises annually from the energy sector are worth twice as much as
18 months ago. “This has given them a window of opportunity and they are
wasting it,” says a prominent investment banker specialising in Russia.
The reasons for this are primarily political rather than economic, as
management consultants at McKinsey pointed out in a comprehensive and highly
pessimistic recent report on Russian productivity. There are good Russian
managers and successful Russian companies. But whereas, in a normal economy,
good performance is rewarded, in Russia it may well be penalised. Size and
success attract the attention of gangsters and corrupt bureaucrats,
especially local ones. If you try to put a competitor out of business,
instead of enjoying a bigger market share you risk a visit from his political
or criminal cronies: at best a raid from the arbitrary and rapacious tax
police, at worst a car bomb or bullet. That makes the need for political
protection, with the costs and compromises it brings, all but irresistible
even for the most able managers.
Imprisoned by history?
Explanations for this endemic lawlessness vary. Pessimists believe it is
ingrained by history. Modern Russia rests on the moral and intellectual
foundations of feudalism and communism, which are antithetical both to
democracy and to a properly functioning economy: “a thousand years of
negative selection”, as one Moscow-based American financier puts it. Russia
tends to punish, not promote, its brightest and best.
Centuries of bad government have also instilled a deep mistrust of
officialdom. The idea that a government agency might be a partner, rather
than a foe, still strikes most Russians as odd. That breeds corruption. Rules
and regulations are drafted on the assumption that everyone will cheat
wherever possible. They are therefore absurdly tight (even minor documents
must be stamped and notarised to have any legal force). As a result, obeying
the rules fully is all but impossible. Instead, the public ignore them, cheat
all the same, and bribe. Officials, for their part, have no reason to be
loyal to their ill-managed, corrupt institutions, and happily settle for a
backhander to make up for their miserable pay.
As a result, the state is both too strong and too weak. It is too strong, in
that it can crush with quite disproportionate force those who offend it. The
prospect of a raid by machinegun-toting tax inspectors in balaclavas, who can
confiscate anything they like, intimidates all but the most powerful
But the state is also too weak. Enforcing a court judgment against a strong
opponent is very hard. State watchdogs that are supposed to bind
Leviathan—such as the Audit Chamber, whose leading light, Yuri Boldyrev, is a
popular anti-corruption campaigner—lack the needed muscle and teeth. And so
politics and economics are all too easily perverted.
Ten years ago, Poland’s chances were dismissed with equal vigour. Poles were,
supposedly, culturally unsuited to democracy and capitalism; they were
disorganised, cliquish and stroppy. In German, Polnische Wirtschaft (Polish
practices) was a colloquial expression meaning a hopeless muddle. Now Poland
has one of the strongest economies in Eastern Europe.
Wrong about Poland, wrong about Russia, the optimists argue. The real cause
of poor institutional and legal infrastructure has been bad political
leadership, coupled with an awful starting position. The final years of
communism signally failed to prepare Russia for capitalism. The country was
exhausted by hyperinflation and shortages. The isolation of the Soviet era
(and its duration: it lasted for seven decades compared with Poland’s four
and a half) meant that there was no living memory of market economics or
democracy. The Soviet obsession with heavy industry and armaments hugely
distorted the structure of the economy.
Mr Yeltsin’s weak and chaotic presidency compounded these problems. Reforms
were hijacked by cronies bent on enriching themselves rather than making the
economy work. This discredited both market economics and the West, which is
now seen as peddling advice at best impracticable, at worst maliciously
Reform and its obstacles
It is possible that Russia is being held to unreasonably high standards. The
other 11 countries that experienced 70 years of Soviet rule—Ukraine,
Kazakhstan and the like—have all done even worse. A fair verdict on the
economy is that there are at least some hopeful signs amid the gloom. The
huge challenge for Mr Putin is to show that these are not temporary
exceptions, but can be sustained and repeated.
So far, his government, like its two predecessors, has managed to provide one
essential precondition for improvement: macro-economic stability. That is a
good start, but it is not enough. The pernicious, growth-killing behaviour of
bureaucrats, criminals and corrupt managers has to change. And that will
require a huge shake-up in the way the country is run.
The two greatest obstacles to change are regional leaders and the tycoons,
known as “oligarchs”. Between them, these two groups are much more powerful
than the federal government. Taxes paid by the oligarchs’ companies keep the
government afloat; their backhanders provide a comfortable life and a secure
retirement for those with power and influence. In return, they expect the
state and its servants to protect their interests—for example, by keeping
foreigners out, loopholes open and competition down.
Tackling an individual oligarch is not too hard. Some fell from power when
the 1998 financial crisis bust their businesses. Others are already cringing
before Mr Putin’s icy frown. An early target may be Rem Vyakhirev, the
self-important boss of Gazprom, the national gas company. Mr Putin’s admirers
in the West hope that he will also go after Boris Berezovsky, a clever and
manipulative Kremlin insider with interests in oil, aluminium and the media.
But removing the oligarchs from government altogether looks unlikely, at
least in the short run. After all, Mr Putin has, and indeed needs, his own
At least the oligarchs present a clearly defined row of targets. Dealing with
the 89 regions of Russia, almost without exception badly and corruptly
governed, will be even harder. The local chieftains—governors, mayors, and
presidents—run their patches as private fiefs. Most have every reason to want
things to continue as they are. Like the local Communist Party secretaries in
the Soviet era, they will willingly pay lip-service to the fashion in Moscow,
so long as they can continue their powerful, comfortable lives without
In theory, the Kremlin has a juicy carrot and some formidable sticks. The
carrot is money: all but a dozen regions receive federal subsidies. The
sticks are the “power ministries”—the army, police and courts. But federal
subsidies are hard to adjust quickly, and the loyalties of the local police
and army are often divided. In Mr Yeltsin’s time, attempts to bring under
control the far-eastern Maritime Territory foundered when the local armed
forces turned out to be under the thumb of the fearsomely idiosyncratic
Mr Putin’s main weapon so far is probably blackmail, something his former
employer, the KGB, was very good at. One well-known governor has already been
brought discreetly into line with a warning that his son’s role in running
the region’s top bank is under investigation. Russia’s local elections are
open enough for a weak incumbent to lose, especially if he is damaged goods
and faces a well-financed opponent.
Another idea floated publicly by some of Mr Putin’s supporters is to have
governors appointed, not elected. Many governors would prefer to worry about
pleasing one powerful man in Moscow rather than lots of cantankerous voters.
Such a system might establish more firm-handed government, but would be
another sorry step backwards for Russia’s already feeble democracy.
Either way, the key for Mr Putin is to create some good examples. If even a
few regions of Russia were prosperous and well-governed, they would show the
rest of the country that things could get better. There will always be parts
of Russia, especially in the Caucasus, that have been so ruined by rule from
Moscow that they will remain poor and miserable for generations. Yet, as in
Italy, the southern fringe can be ignored if other bits of the country are
The best example, both for squeezing the oligarchs and for frightening the
governors, would be to start in Mr Putin’s own office. Under Mr Yeltsin, the
presidential property office embodied extravagance, secrecy and corruption.
Its former head, Pavel Borodin, once valued its assets—perhaps fancifully—at
$600 billion. At a time when Russia was all but bankrupt, he spent $400m on
renovating some historic rooms in the Kremlin, claiming that this was not
taxpayers’ money but “our own”. One of Mr Putin’s first acts was to move Mr
Borodin to a different job. To restore openness and accountability at the top
could be his first priority.
With enough luck, grit and vision, the new president and his team can perhaps
start turning Russia into a law-abiding and prosperous country. But two
dangers lurk. The first is that, if reforms go awry, the government will look
for specific culprits, whether “speculators”, “wreckers” or “provocateurs”,
and in the process trample on human rights without doing anything to further
real reform. History provides many examples of the punishments and
sacrifices, usually pointless, that Russian rulers can order in the name of
The other danger is the emergence of a pugnacious nationalism. The lesson of
Chechnya is that a war, coupled with cloyingly loyal television, is one of
the few things which can make Russians show warm support for their
government. If the promised economic revival, lawfulness and efficiency fail
to materialise, Mr Putin may look for another distraction. In a country
plagued by hastily conceived short cuts, the greatest test of Mr Putin’s
presidency will be to avoid yet another one.