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Johnson's Russia List
8 April 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: IMF's Fischer sure Russian govt will be reformist.
2. Moscow Times: Jonas Bernstein, Fog on the Playing Field.
3. Olga Kryazheva: Russian Youth in Crisis.
4. Stratfor.com: Putin Promotes Russian Nationalism.
5. RFE/RL Russian Election Report: Laura Belin, FRAUD CHARGES
UNLIKELY TO BE EXAMINED IMPARTIALLY.
6. BBC MONITORING: RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER CONCERNED AT PUTIN'S FAILURE
TO ATTEND TO MATTERS OF STATE. (Izvestiya)
7. Le Monde Interviews Yabloko Party's Yavlinsky.
8. Le Monde Diplomatique: JEAN RADVANYI, ELECTIONS TO THE SOUND
OF WAR. Russia seeks a 'new deal']
IMF's Fischer sure Russian govt will be reformist
MOSCOW, April 7 (Reuters) - International Monetary Fund Acting Managing
Director Stanley Fischer said on Friday he was impressed by Russian
President-elect Vladimir Putin and convinced that his government will
continue market reforms.
"Everyone I met in the government made it very clear that they want to
continue market reforms," he told a news conference after two days of talks
in Moscow with Putin and other Russian officials.
"I am convinced that is the road that will be taken by the government," he
said, adding that it had support now from the State Duma, the lower house of
Fischer praised Putin's grasp of economic issues, saying: "We had a very
extensive discussion on various issues and I was impressed by the extent to
which Mr Putin is familiar with issues, by the views he expressed."
Fischer said he did not discuss new loans for Russia or their timing during
his visit. The IMF has been holding up the release of loans for Russia since
last year, arguing that structural reform requirements have not been
8 April 2000
Fog on the Playing Field
By Jonas Bernstein
The Clinton administration wants smooth relations with Russia's
president-elect, and the reason why is obvious (hint: the need to validate
its "strategic partnership" policy in a U.S. election year). This explains
the strained rhetorical maneuvers of top officials like Deputy Secretary of
State Strobe Talbott, who told a U.S. Congressional committee this week that
the destruction of Grozny was a "grotesque monument to overkill."
Can you imagine what the reaction would have been had he used such words to
describe, say, the shelling of Sarajevo? (In August 1995, the U.S. State
Department denounced the shelling of Sarajevo's central market as a "crime
Also noteworthy were the remarks made by Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs, two days after Vladimir Putin's
election victory. Addressing a Washington seminar, Pickering, who served as
U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1993-96, spoke derisively of what he called
"Putinology," which had become, in his words, a "cottage industry in Moscow
and Washington." He dismissed the speculation surrounding Russia's new
leader, saying that much of it tells "a great deal more about the analyst
than it does about the patient on the couch."
It is right to be skeptical about attempts to predict Putin's behavior based
on the sketchy fragments of his biography. It may also be true that such
speculation frequently tells us more about the person engaging in it. Take,
for instance, Ambassador Pickering's Oct. 22, 1996, valedictory speech to the
American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow.
"Within three years, Americans will be able to travel to Sochi and Samara as
easily and as regularly as they now travel to Chicago and Cleveland," the
ambassador then predicted. "When they travel there, they will be able to stay
at more-than-three-star hotels, eat at McDonald's and better, rent American
cars, and call home without all of the traditional difficulties."
Pickering also predicted that within three years, tax laws and accounting
procedures in Russia would approach Western standards, customs problems would
be significantly reduced and changes in the legal system and commercial
regulations would make doing business in Russia "more structured, more
predictable and less risky."
Those three years were up last October. There's no need to belabor the issue:
The record, including August 1998, speaks for itself.
Still, a few general points need to be made. Yes, McDonald's is now in
Samara, which in the recent presidential contest gave more votes to Gennady
Zyuganov than to Konstantin Titov, the region's reformist governor.
McDonald's is also in Belarus, China, Serbia and Malaysia. Back in 1996,
Pickering also waxed enthusiastically about the proliferation of "mobile
phones," "new Western cars" and "pricey restaurants and clubs" in Moscow.
Substitute Medellin for Moscow, and you see the potential problems in using a
"cell-phone index" to calculate a country's progress. (As a U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency official told a Congressional committee in 1997: "Today, a
top manager from a Colombian [drug] trafficking organization may be as
'wired' as any business executive in Silicon Valley.")
Pickering said in his recent address that Putin had received a "mandate" from
the many Russians who "missed the absence of central control and welcomed the
emergence of a strong leader." The president-elect, he added, seemed to have
"a more direct and straightforward rapport with the Russian people than did
his predecessors." That may be true, but it could also have been said about
Alexander Lukashenko after he was elected Belarus's president in 1994 (and,
perhaps, even still).
Ironically, some observers are beginning to question whether Putin is a
genuinely strong leader or merely the image of one, created by Russia's PR
gurus, election "technologists" and power brokers.
On Thursday, Izvestia, the reliably pro-Putin daily, openly hinted that he
may not be up to the job. According to the newspaper, some members of
Russia's political establishment suspect that Putin's fondness for "extreme"
modes of transport, demonstrated by his recent ski-trips, his March 20
jet-fighter flight and this week's sleep-over on an atomic submarine — all of
which made for great photo-ops — reflect a desire to avoid dealing with the
country's "serious and urgent problems."
Then again, perhaps the real business of government is to be left to those
who chose Putin as the "successor" in the first place. Judging from the
fiasco surrounding Putin's on-again, off-again candidate for St. Petersburg
governor, he is less in charge of things than others — like Boris Berezovsky.
Date: Thu, 06 Apr 2000
From: Olga Kryazheva <email@example.com>
Subject: Russian Youth in Crisis
Russian Youth in Crisis
By Olga Kryazheva
Research Assistant, Center for Defense Information
The current era in Russia could be called an age of contrasts. Thirty-six
million young people in Russia -- one quarter of the country’s population
-- have survived and inherited the transition to a market economy and
democracy in Russia. On one hand, this transition gives an opportunity for
young people in Russia to capitalize on. On the other hand, Russian youth face
miserable living conditions that are among the worst in the developing
Statistics show that there are 10 million Russian citizens between the age
of 18 and 21, about 7% of the population. As it is in many countries around
the world, this part of the population is traditionally apolitical. “I did
not vote. It's not worth wasting my time. There is virtually nothing that
depends on the people’s will in Russia. The only way the government and the
Duma affect society is by imposing their regulations and unreasonable
decrees and people try to cope with them. I am quite sure nothing will
change whether young people vote or not…” This was the attitude of about
40% of young Russians towards the last presidential elections. Youths feel
government is irrelevant and they do not participate in the rule of their
own society. Although opinion surveys show that young people are more
optimistic than their elders, their passion today is not politics, but
well-paid openings in the new structure of the capitalist economy. Most of
them are simply trying to find enough money to allow them to survive and
continue their education.
The rise in the suffering among Russian people is alarming. According to
the Russia’s Ministry of Health, over half of Russia’s youth is in poor
health, and the death rate among teenagers has increased by 36% in the last
three years. The Russian Youth Foundation reports that about 2,000
teenagers commit suicide every year. Today approximately 55% of the teenage
and young people live below the poverty line. About 4 million of them are
homeless, the same number as in 1920s right after the Russian Civil War.
1.5 million juveniles do not study or work, which leads to an increase in
juvenile crime. Many of them think that it is acceptable to earn money by
violating the law.
While Russia holds elections and fights in Chechnya, youths are trying to
survive. With few alternatives available, drug addiction grows, rapidly
becoming an epidemic, and health conditions decline. According to Russian
Interior Ministry, two million Russians regularly take illegal drugs and
15% of the country’s 150 million people have tried narcotic substances at
least once. Although the main group of drug users is reported to be between
the ages of 20 and 30, the victims of drug abuse are more often children
and teenagers. Within the last five years, the number of drug addicts among
teenagers has increased by 36%. About 60% of the teenagers and young people
in public schools and universities have switched from traditional “light”
drugs like hashish to the “heavier” and costly drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Russia’s Health Ministry is alarmed by the increase in drug-related crimes
and infectious diseases. It reports that more than 60% of new HIV cases in
the past few years were registered among youths who injected drugs.
One-third of all female drug-users report that they are periodically or
constantly engaged in prostitution to earn their living or to purchase
drugs. In the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy Report “Drug Addiction
in Russia,” Dr. Sergei Karaganov calls the increase of drug use in Russia a
“national threat.” He calls for strengthening legal, medical, social, and
other systems for the rehabilitation of drug addicts, while establishing
new ones and launching a powerful public relations campaign against
In contemporary Russia poverty, deteriorating health, increased drug abuse,
and crime have created among the 36 million young people a generation with
a limited ability to realize their full political and social potential,
threatening the next generation of Russians with deepening crises of crime,
disease, and disorder. Russia is willing to take actions to fight these
crises. Still, how much effort and money the Russian government will put
into resolving youths’ problems in order for them to be a viable political
force remains to be seen.
Putin Promotes Russian Nationalism
April 7, 2000
In a sweeping motion barely noticed by the Western media, the Russian
Defense Ministry promoted almost one-quarter of the Duma deputies to a
higher military rank, April 6. The move, although seen by some as a Kremlin
ploy to secure Duma votes for several upcoming issues, falls in line with
President-elect Vladimir Putin’s consistent use of nationalism to
Despite the Western hope that Putin’s war in Chechnya was merely a public
relations strategy aimed at winning the election, Putin has discovered that
evoking nationalism in his countrymen is the most effective way to achieve
his goals. The end of the war in Chechnya will not deliver a new, tame,
pro-Western Putin. As long as the Russian economy is in ruins, Russia’s new
president will pursue the policy of rallying Russians behind a unifying
cause while frantically trying to mend the beaten economy behind the scenes.
The Defense Ministry yesterday delivered military decorations to 150 Duma
deputies who are reserve officers, reported The Moscow Times. Among the
recipients were Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Unity leader Boris
Gryzlov, Fatherland-All Russia member Andrei Kokoshin, and even oligarch
Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky was recognized as a captain, Zyuganov and
Kokoshin were made colonels, and Gryzlov was promoted to major. A
stipulation of the promotion is that all of the deputies will have to
participate in a brief military training course, to develop skills to match
At a time when Russia’s regions – disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises
of a prosperous future under a reform government – threatened to break off,
Putin fell back on the one tried and true formula for diverting their
attention. He produced a war. The war in Chechnya met virtually no
factional criticism internally, and riled the Western nations externally.
It was a perfect distraction from the economy and demonstrated that the era
of a weak Russia had ended. The war in Chechnya showed that the center was
again strong, and disintegration was not in Russia’s future.
The Kremlin has already dubbed Chechnya a Russian victory, despite obvious
challenges still facing the federal forces there. Putin, however, is not
yet prepared to walk away from the powerful unifying effect of a national
cause like the war in Chechnya. The war in Chechnya was not a short-term
election ploy, but a reflection of the strategic model Putin will continue
to follow. Therefore, while his team of economic experts works round the
clock to churn out a new economic plan for Russia, Putin will capitalize on
his relationship with the two institutions at the core of Russian national
pride: the military and the secret services.
The Duma deputies’ promotions – and perhaps their “training” – are Putin’s
way of reminding the disparate deputies that they share a belief that
supersedes political divisions. Putin has found a common thread among the
Duma leadership and will use it in an attempt to convince the country’s
leading politicians to overlook their political ties and throw their
support behind him.
RFE/RL Russian Election Report
No. 5 (13), 7 April 2000
FRAUD CHARGES UNLIKELY TO BE EXAMINED IMPARTIALLY
By Laura Belin
Even as the Central Electoral Commission announced the
final results, allegations that fraud swayed the outcome
continued to circulate in Moscow. The Communist Party
maintains that Vladimir Putin's vote total was inflated to
give him a first-round victory. Gennadii Zyuganov released an
open letter to the Central Electoral Commission on 3 April.
(The letter was published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" the next
day and can be found on the web at http://www.kprf.ru.)
Zyuganov charged that serious irregularities occurred in 25
of Russia's 89 regions and said he would refuse to accept the
official results in certain regions (the republics of
Bashkortostan, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkariya, Mordoviya,
North Ossetiya, and Tatarstan, as well as Kaliningrad and
Saratov Oblasts) until the Central Electoral Commission
thoroughly reviews the voting there. Although his letter does
not mention Ingushetiya, Zyuganov on 28 March charged that
there was massive fraud in that republic as well. According
to official returns, Putin gained more than 85 percent of the
vote in Ingushetiya.
It has become a cliche in Russia that the presidential
campaign was less "dirty" than the campaign for the State
Duma last autumn, but Zyuganov challenged that view in his
letter. He charged that "interference" by the executive
branch in the electoral process was more widespread during
the presidential campaign, manifested as "illegal agitation"
on behalf of Putin and the use of administrative resources to
falsify the results. He claimed that in many localities the
number of ballots printed was many times greater than the
number of registered voters (suggesting that genuine ballots
may have been discarded and many others forged). Zyuganov
also asserted that his observers were not allowed to monitor
the vote counts in many polling stations and were not given
copies of the official protocols. Article 21 of the electoral
law gives observers the right to obtain such protocols,
without which it is impossible to prove that officials higher
up the information chain inaccurately tallied vote totals.
Communist Party officials on 4 April submitted documents
concerning their fraud allegations to the Central Electoral
Commission. According to their estimates, Putin fell short of
the 50 percent level needed to win the presidential election
on 26 March, making a second round against Zyuganov
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has also expressed
serious doubts about the official election results. Speaking
on NTV on 4 April, he did not dispute Putin's victory but
argued that some aspects of the results appeared strange. For
instance, his nationwide share of the vote was almost
identical to what Yabloko received in the December
parliamentary election, he won up to 12 percent in some
regions and virtually nothing in others, and both he and
Zyuganov gained almost identical percentages of the vote in
the city of Moscow. On election day, some Yabloko officials
charged that in some regions, Yavlinskii's designated
observers were barred from rooms where votes were counted or
denied copies of the official protocols. Yavlinskii said he
will submit information concerning alleged irregularities to
the Central Electoral Commission.
Some media, notably "Novaya gazeta," have also cast
doubt on certain aspects of the election result, such as the
higher-than-expected turnout figure. Officials can falsify
turnout by filling out ballots at the end of the day in the
names of citizens who did not come to vote. On 26 March, as
in many Russian elections, there appears to have been a
suspicious burst of voter activity during the last hour
polling stations were open.
In at least one respect, the fraud allegations appear
credible. Putin gained an outright majority with less than 3
percent of the vote to spare. Georgii Satarov, president of
the Indem Foundation, has estimated that falsification
techniques can swing the result of a nationwide election by
up to 5 percent. Many of the regions singled out by Zyuganov
have a long history of releasing questionable official
election returns. On the other hand, fraud certainly did not
alter the final outcome of this election, as all observers
agree Putin would easily have defeated Zyuganov had a second
round been held.
In any case, the Communist Party has no chance of
overturning the election result. Article 81 of the electoral
law states that election results may be overturned in light
of proven violations in the conduct of voting or the counting
of votes (such as attempts to block observers from monitoring
the count). If irregularities are found to have affected at
least one-fourth of all Russian polling stations, the entire
election is declared invalid.
Central Electoral Commission officials have said they
will give due consideration to any evidence of fraud, but it
appears they have already made up their minds on the matter.
Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov and his colleagues
have repeatedly dismissed the possibility that fraud was
widespread. Commission member Olga Zastrozhnaya's 5 April
comments on Russian Television were typical. She admitted
that minor violations took place but ruled out "large-scale
falsification." She criticized Zyuganov for waiting nearly
ten days before submitting evidence to the commission.
Zastrozhnaya then assured viewers that the commission would
examine all evidence and punish officials found to have
broken the law.
Veshnyakov made similar comments on 5 April, saying the
election result would not be put in doubt, Interfax reported.
He conceded that there may have been some violations but
likened them to "flies in the ointment." In comments aired by
Russian Television on 5 April, Veshnyakov inadvertently cast
further doubt on whether his commission would give a fair
hearing to fraud allegations. He characterized the Communist
claims as "unsubstantiated declarations" and warned that "if
they are not supported by anything, we will consider them to
be slander, with all the resulting consequences."
RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER CONCERNED AT PUTIN'S FAILURE TO ATTEND TO MATTERS OF STATE
Source: 'Izvestiya', Moscow, in Russian 7 Apr 00
A Russian newspaper has expressed concern at President-elect Vladimir Putin's
apparent lack of a hurry in attending to matters of state. "You get the
impression that Putin is using skis, fighter trainers and submarines as a
screen to avoid tackling serious and urgent problems for as long as
possible," it said, adding that while Putin was firing a missile from a
submarine, the people in Moscow were hurriedly cancelling a government
session which was due to discuss the national fuel and energy situation. The
following is the text of an article published in 'Izvestiya' on 7th April.
Subheadings have been inserted editorially.
Vladimir Putin spent the night of 5th/6th April in a submarine and then
attended the launch of a dummy ballistic missile and went through the ritual
of becoming a submariner. Meanwhile, the members of the government, the
deputy chief of the IMF and state affairs in general awaited him in Moscow.
The trip was planned before the election and retained its full election
campaign flavour. Actually, Putin was not objecting - he had not sailed on a
submarine before. But the election campaign is over. Time to surface. On
Sunday 9th April Putin marks 100 days as acting president - this is
recognized the world over as the time for an initial analysis of a leaders
deeds and actions. So what has Putin done since he became acting head of
state on 31st December?
He signed a decree on guarantees for Boris Yeltsin's family. He flew to
Chechnya twice and decorated heroes. He exchanged the [Radio Liberty]
journalist [Andrey] Babitskiy for two Russian soldiers. He promised a
detailed investigation of the deaths of the Perm and Moscow Region special
police and punishment of those responsible. The investigation goes on; those
responsible have not been found. At any rate, all the generals are still in
their jobs and some are even getting promoted. He raised pensions and public
sector pay, because the treasury has the money at the moment. He refused to
meet the UN commissioner for human rights. Possibly this completes the list
of Putin's notable actions.
Whereas before the acting president's movements might have been explained by
a desire (whether on his own part or on that of his immediate entourage) to
make an impression on the electorate, a different set of actions is obviously
required of a president-elect. There is even a new joke: now we know why the
artist Steklov was dropped from training for a flight to the Mir station. He
is being replaced by Putin.
The acting president's fondness for extreme forms of transport and equally
dangerous pastimes is already starting to concern some members of the Russian
and foreign establishments. His voluntary overnight stay in a submerged
submarine is seen not only as evidence of courage. "He didn't spend enough
time playing soldiers as a child" - this verdict is already beginning to be
pronounced on Putin, albeit sotto voce at the moment. There is probably an
element of truth in this: it is clear from what Putin himself and those
around him remember that Putin senior was a disciplinarian and would not
tolerate any mischief. But now childhood dreams are acquiring a different
meaning: you get the impression that Putin is using skis, fighter trainers
and submarines as a screen to avoid tackling serious and urgent problems for
as long as possible.
While Putin was firing a missile from a submarine, the people in Moscow were
hurriedly cancelling a government session scheduled for the morning of 6th
April. The national fuel and energy situation was on the agenda. It is a very
important issue for the economy, one affecting many Russian companies. The
government session was cancelled, but no new date was announced. This
important matter cannot be examined in the chairman's absence, the White
House [government headquarters] said. Meanwhile the chairman was sailing
around the Barents Sea.
Stanley Fischer, first deputy managing director of the IMF, had flown into
Moscow the day before. His meeting with Putin was planned for 6th April.
No-one could say until the last minute whether it would take place - after
all, "Putin is at sea". The senior IMF official, who came to Moscow to see
what kind of relationship can be established with Russia now and whether the
new leadership can be trusted, had breakfast with [Yabloko leader] Grigoriy
Yavlinskiy and listened to what he had to say. Putin was at sea in a
submarine. Even if the financial situation in the country means that it will
be a long time yet before we need to ask the IMF for money, this does not
mean that we do not need to maintain a relationship at the level of talks.
The IMF's position is an indicator for foreign private investors. And Russia
Concern at delay in forming economic strategy
There has been talk for several months now about the need for an economic
strategy. The path the country will take - very liberal or moderate - has not
even been chosen yet. In the Kremlin, Aleksandr House [Putin campaign
headquarters] and the White House the word is that there is still time, given
that the inauguration is scheduled for 7th May. Why economic strategy should
be linked to the inauguration is not entirely clear. Putin has been given a
free hand to choose people for the government and no-one will deny him that
prerogative. So why couldn't the strategy have been identified over the past
three and a half months and been launched by now? After all, no-one is going
to come along in May and wipe out what has been done. One of the main
strategy drafters, German Gref, has gone into hospital.
On the president's official Internet site the "working day" column only
contains the schedule for 3rd April. Apparently, he did not have a working
day on 6th April. The meeting with Fischer had been moved to the evening.
Next Putin was supposed to meet the heads of his regional election
headquarters and thank them for the work they had done.
The acting president's main achievement in the 100 days is to conjure out of
thin air the image of a "strong hand", which will get everyone "into line"
and thereby establish order. Some have gotten "into line" and there are even
those who believe that order will be established in the country by high-speed
flights and overnight stays in the deep. But he has not yet "surfaced". Maybe
after he has been inaugurated the president will eventually change his
behaviour and start arriving at business meetings on time, develop an
enthusiasm for the economy and international relations, and finally receive
Stanley Fischer in the Kremlin rather than in the wardroom.
Le Monde Interviews Yabloko Party's Yavlinskiy
Paris' Le Monde
1 April 2000
[translation for personal use only]
Interview with Russian Yabloko Party leader Grigoriy Yavlinskiy by
Francois Bonnet in Moscow; date not given: "'Mr Putin Will Strengthen
Criminal Nomenklatura System'"
Moscow -- [Le Monde] Do you think, as the
Communists do, that the 26 March Russian presidential elections, in which
Vladimir Putin won in the first round, featured large-scale electoral
[Yavlinskiy] Probably, and we are observing many strange things.
Our real result is very different from our official result: everyone
agrees with that. As in 1993 (in the general elections -- Le Monde
editor's note) and 1996 (Boris Yeltsin's reelection -- Le Monde editor's
note,) manipulation has occurred. Unfortunately, this discussion of
rigging has no future: our society lacks investigation and verification
resources, and the international community immediately acknowledged the
validity of these elections. The official results are only part of the
overall manipulation. Who writes the political reports for the leading
ORT channel, and who fabricates the election results, if not the Kremlin?
[Le Monde] The charge that is leveled at you is that you have always
entrenched yourself in systematic opposition, refusing to shoulder any
government responsibility. Are you paying for this now?
[Yavlinskiy] In Russia there has never been anything but corrupt and
criminal governments. I have refused to work in them, because it means
working with the mafia, supporting its practices, and constantly making
compromises with your conscience. The main result of this was to pave
the way for the August 1998 financial crisis and the country's failure to
repay its debts, which former Prime Minister Sergey Kiryenko finally
achieved. It must be realized that this crisis was merely a means of
concealing and defending the Russian oligarchs' money. The old
nomenklatura have managed this country for 10 years in an alliance with
the "young reformers," who were chosen to receive $50 billion from the
West, all of which was stolen. So, no, I see no need to work with such
governments, which, moreover, are waging the war in Chechnya.
[Le Monde] Do you think that Vladimir Putin belongs to this
[Yavlinskiy] I think that Vladimir Putin will strengthen the Yeltsin
system, which is a system of criminal nomenklatura. The Soviet system
is not merely centralized planning: it is the limitation, or the absence,
of human rights; it is the application of the principle of "the end
justifies the means;" it is the ability to sacrifice tens of thousands of
people for the sake of mere political expediency; it is the attempt to
resolve everything by force and to establish the rampant militarization
of society... and this is what we are witnessing.
[Le Monde] Who do you think is closest to the new president --
financier Boris Berezovskiy, Anatoliy Chubayis, the so-called Yeltsin
"family," or the leaders of the FSB?
[Yavlinskiy] All these people do exist, and made him President. Who
is dominant? I am not a psychoanalyst. I observe that there is no
difference between them and him. So why would he want to rid himself of
them: in order to do what? If someone is in prison, he tries to escape,
to struggle for his freedom: I can understand that. But this is not at
all the situation with Mr Putin. There is no indication that he wants
to free himself from those who have helped him.
[Le Monde] What you think about Western responses to these elections?
[Yavlinskiy] The West will have to deal with Vladimir Putin, because
he now represents Russia. But I would point out that the West is now
seeking all kinds of arguments to promote him, to say that Putin is a
worthy person, to explain that this country's oligarchs are hindering
him, that he wants reforms, and so forth. I do not think that it is
helpful to seek every possible excuse. The truth must be told: during
the past 10 years in Russia there have been only sham reforms; the
population have elected a representative of the Soviet secret services
bequeathed by Boris Yeltsin.
This country is suffering a terrible humiliation, and Putin was
elected on that basis. Our political elite consider that Russia has
been humiliated by the West, whereas in fact it was at the hands of the
[Le Monde] Do you really think that Mikhail Kasyanov, who may perhaps
become Mr Putin's Prime Minister, and his economic advisers German Gref
or Aleksey Kudrin, are representatives of this nomenklatura?
[Yavlinskiy] No, they are not direct heirs, but they do represent the
interests of the so-called reformers, who have come to an agreement with
[Le Monde] Does your election result not make it very difficult to
establish a democratic and reformist opposition alliance?
[Yavlinskiy] This will be a very difficult job. We will try to work
in the Duma (the lower house of Parliament -- Le Monde editor's note)
with the liberals on the SPS (a group comprising Sergey Kiryenko, Boris
Nemtsov, and Yegr Gaydar -- Le Monde editor's note,) but I would point
out that these liberal parties have no real existence and that their
leaders support the war in Chechnya, regarding it as a means of restoring
the Army's lost pride. It is difficult to call them liberals and
[Le Monde] What if, perchance, Mr Putin were to propose to some of
your party's leaders, or to you yourself, that you join the government?
[Yavlinskiy] In order to do what? The war in Chechnya, military
training in kindergartens, writing the ORT's political reports, and
organizing the transfer to Boris Berezovskiy of 60 percent of Russia's
aluminum market? So far, this is the only work that I have seen.
Le Monde Diplomatique
ELECTIONS TO THE SOUND OF WAR
Russia seeks a 'new deal'
If Vladimir Putin is elected president of the Russian Federation on 26 March,
he will largely owe his victory to the war in Chechnya, with its appalling
catalogue of massacres, destruction, pillage and torture. But Izvestia says
that "Putin, man of iron" also likes to think of himself as "Vladimir
Vladimirovitch Roosevelt". Many questions surround the true programme of
Boris Yeltsin's successor. At any rate he will have to take account of the
state of the country he has inherited as acting president.
by JEAN RADVANYI
Professor at the Institut national des langues et civilisation orientales
(Inalco) and co-author with Alexis Berelowitch of 100 Portes de la Russie,
(Editions de l'Atelier, Paris 1999).
Nine years after he took office, Boris Yeltsin's legacy is a badly bruised
and weakened Russia. The statistics paint a grim picture. Gross domestic
product (GDP) has fallen by more than 40% and industry has collapsed, save
for a few primary sectors that account for 70% of Russian exports. The
economy is out of balance, sapped by falling investment and the flight of
tens of billions of dollars at a time when almost 40% of the population is
living below the poverty threshold.
Russians find this collapse all the harder to bear because their national
pride has also been wounded. Russia is isolated on the international stage
and criticised and ostracised by its nearest neighbours: Russian drivers are
even being harassed by Ukrainian bureaucracy. Russia is facing Western
competition in what it considered its natural sphere of influence - the
Caucasus and Central Asia - not to mention the Baltic states that are soon to
be integrated into the European Union. Russians were devastated to see the
former Great Power sidelined in the Kosovo conflict, even though the
significance of the "Slav brotherhood" has been exaggerated in the West. As
Vladimir Putin was quick to point out just before he was appointed acting
president: "For the first time in the past 200-300 years, Russia is facing a
real threat of sliding to the second, and possibly even third, echelon of
But Russia's many different faces become apparent once we look beyond the
often self-satisfied accounts of a country in chaos. Despite serious problems
of maladministration and the decline that set in over ten years ago, all
transport and communications networks are up and running, as are the
administrative, educational and cultural systems. To the surprise of
observers on all sides, Russia remained economically viable after the serious
financial crisis of the summer of 1998. In 1999 GDP grew by 2% and industrial
production by 8%. The trade surplus is now estimated at $32bn - an
improvement in part due to the rise in price of hydrocarbons, whose earlier
collapse had played a major part in the crisis (see article by Nicolas Sarkis
in this issue).
The far-reaching changes set under way during the Yeltsin era have to be
taken into account in any assessment of the real state of Russia. False
starts and inconsistencies notwithstanding, there is no doubt that, of the 12
states that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Russia has
made the most dramatic progress in reforming its economic, political and
institutional machinery, and has done so in a very short space of time. The
results of many surveys confirm just how deeply rooted the concepts of
freedom of enterprise and travel and freedom of expression have become,
indicating a change in the behaviour and attitude of many Russians. Despite
media manipulation and the spin put on the Chechen conflict, the last
parliamentary (and also regional) elections showed that the electoral process
is now firmly established.
The final balance sheet of the Yeltsin presidency therefore appears confusing
and paradoxical. Many Western analysts have accused Russia of failing to make
the grade in the process of transition. But, in many cases, that is largely a
reflection of their own inability to move beyond a preconceived interpretive
model. The crisis affecting the economy and society before 1991 was
underestimated, as was the inflexibility of Soviet structures and attitudes.
That left Russia with a system very different from the other socialist
countries where the market and democracy had by no means been forgotten and,
in some instances, were actually still practised. The political situation was
part of that legacy. For more or less the whole of that nine year period, a
reformist government and a conservative parliament - in which the Communist
Party and its allies effectively held a majority - were left to fight it out
between themselves in a form of "bitter" political cohabitation.
That was the background against which Yeltsin and his prime ministers
implemented a strategy of breaking completely with the old system. But is it
possible to describe this as a clearly defined new system? The best
description of the Yeltsin method might be a constant and pragmatic attempt
to combine reformist voluntarism with a dogged defence of the power seized in
the difficult circumstances of the failed 1991 coup. All available weapons
were used, ranging from the time-consuming legislative process - frequently
blocked by the majority in the Duma - to the kind of political manipulation
that played on the differing interests of the parties and factions within the
Duma. Nor did they shy away from the worst excesses, such as the attack on
the Moscow White House in October 1993 or the first Chechen war in 1994.
Barely had the new laws hit the statute books before endemic political
instability and lack of a broadly-based consensus on the speed and scale of
reform led the government to emulate its Soviet predecessors by permitting a
range of exceptions and derogations. These were designed to curry favour with
sectors, businesses or entire regions from which the government hoped for
political or financial support. One effect of the exemptions was to undermine
the authority of the new laws, as the system was sabotaged from above ("à la
carte federalism" or leasing the most profitable sectors, as it was
described). They were also bound to encourage some of those responsible for
implementing the laws to engage in the kind of compromise where there ceased
to be a clear distinction between the authorities' immediate interests and
those of the individuals or the lobbies they represented.
Much has been said about the role of foreign consultants and the models they
used. According to Putin, if modernisation is to succeed "foreign theoretical
models and blueprints cannot simply be transposed to Russia". But, though the
historian Roy Medvedev (2) records the role of the foreign consultants, who
established a kind of "shock therapy centre" alongside the government of Igor
Gaidar back in November 1991, his main criticisms are levelled at the first
Russian liberal reformers. According to Medvedev, their approach to democracy
and the market bore all the hallmarks of the kind of dogmatic naivety that
had not been witnessed since Soviet ideology on social planning.
Those first steps towards reform were based on a combination of self-delusion
and cynicism. Self-delusion because of the belief that - like some kind of
new Nep (the New Economic Policy Lenin launched in 1921) - market mechanisms
had the power to effect rapid economic and social change. But the Nep was
relatively successful only because the market was still alive in social
practices at the time. That illusion was largely shared by the public, as
illustrated by the boundless enthusiasm of many Russians for pyramid selling.
The delusion was further fuelled by the belief that the laws of the market
could rapidly fulfil the regulatory function of the state, even at that most
delicate stage when past practice had been abolished but the new laws were
still on the drawing board. That left legal vacuums and grey areas likely to
cause glitches in all areas. The desire to cast off the shackles of a
centralising state enjoyed particularly keen support, as it coincided with
the radical liberal campaigns then at their peak in the West.
As for the cynicism, that was based on the idea that - whatever the social
cost - only a complete break with the past system could guarantee successful
reforms. After all, at its height, the period of capitalist development had
been accompanied in the major Western industrial countries by social crises,
financial scandals and a variety of other social upheavals.
Russia's political and economic landscape has changed profoundly after nine
years of reform implemented in such extremely paradoxical circumstances. The
mosaic includes elements of democracy and economic liberalism interspersed
with fragments of standard Soviet practice and structures. In those terms,
the current state of privatisation is instructive and much more varied than
we are often told.
A handful of oligarchs control the major financial, industrial and media
centres that the Kremlin promoted in an effort to access the Western
monopolies. Almost purely Russian in conception, they have paradoxically
helped weaken the country by rushing into international speculation instead
of extending their manufacturing base beyond the traditionally dominant
sectors in which they had their origins (hydrocarbons, military-industrial
complex and metallurgy). But there are also the many smaller companies whose
privatisation was controlled by the regions. Not that there was any less
favouritism or disturbing links between local politicians and industrialists
at regional level: some regional governors are known to have been involved in
criminal activity. But in the regions, the process is far more sensitive to
the real problems of the population.
The fact that these regional officials have been directly elected since 1996
has given them a powerful incentive to pay greater attention to local
economic interests. In recent years the regions have therefore played an
important part in maintaining cohesion in Russia. There was even a time, in
early 1999, when, like Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the governors and
presidents of the republics thought they could play a decisive political
role. They pointed the finger at what will certainly remain one of Yeltsin's
most obvious failures: his inability to persuade Russians to continue to
believe in their destiny - a consequence of the country's loss of authority
on the international stage.
Comments on Putin's chances of bringing about significant change in Russia,
if he wins the presidential elections, are unusually circumspect. The fact
that his appointment as prime minister coincided with the start of a new
Chechen war cast a chill on Western public opinion, particularly since - for
a time at least - manipulation of the war for electoral purposes paid
dividends in Russia. The span of Putin's career - he was a junior KGB officer
in the German Democratic Republic, then chief aide to one of the most
controversial reformers, St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Subchak, who died in
February, and, finally, the Kremlin's faithful henchman - has certainly given
him breadth of experience and impressive support, but shed little light on
his real beliefs.
Many in Russia believe that Putin can draw on a whole range of very
favourable conditions for launching what some make no bones about calling the
"new deal" Russia needs. This would involve substantially mobilising public
opinion in favour of economic and national recovery based on restored
confidence. The continuing high oil prices, the slight increase in growth in
1999 and Putin's undeniable popularity (not just a function of events in
Chechnya) mean that he is not overly dependent on the oligarchs and the media
they control. He may also benefit from the neutral stance adopted by the main
Western leaders. According to Putin himself, the issue is no longer to catch
up with capitalism in 20 years, as Nikita Khrushchev demanded in his day.
Putin claims to be a realist. He believes that "it will take 15 years to
catch up with Spain or Portugal with an annual growth rate of 8% [the 1999
rate for industry]". One step at a time.
Most observers agree on what needs to be done if that challenge is to be met.
The regulatory role of the state will have to be bolstered - a point on which
many Western analyses concur - and the main elements of political and
economic reform tailored to a strategy of emerging from crisis. That will
mean tackling crime head-on and, even more importantly, the grey areas that
currently dominate relations between the financial and political spheres.
Rather than action by the judiciary (although some is probably needed) or the
renationalisation proposed in some quarters, the prime necessity will be to
restore investor confidence and, above all, find a way of channelling Russian
capital back to the real economy, "legalising" the parallel economy.
One of the main campaign issues is the redistribution of wealth. The gap
between the nouveaux riches and the new poor, as they are called in Russia,
is too wide. Not only has Putin undertaken to pay wage and pension arrears,
he has announced a 40% increase in pensions in March. Is that just an
election gimmick? Yes and no. When Yevgeny Primakov was prime minister, he
won broad political support by increasing officials' salaries. And economic
stability will not in itself win over the population unless key sectors of
the electorate feel tangible benefits.
Can Putin encourage a change of that kind? Observers have been impressed by
his handling of regional affairs - except for Chechnya - since July 1999.
Present on the ground, he has demonstrated a real ability to listen and
support but has knocked back sharply the likes of General Alexander Lebed who
continued to promote their own particular interests. Most Russians and
economic players are waiting for an equally strong signal in relation to the
most powerful oligarchs and monopolies (energy and transport) in which the
deregulation favoured by the previous government has severely compounded all
the political and financial abuses.
Putin will not have a reformist majority in the new Duma, in which neither
the liberal right nor the conservative left has a majority. But he will
probably be able to rely on external social forces whose influence could
prove critical. Foremost among them are the regional players, both political
and economic, who have repeatedly called for the rules of play to be
clarified. That development probably brings with it the potential risk of
undermining federal authority.
But Yeltsin's successor has an important ace up his sleeve when it comes to
striking a new balance of responsibilities between Moscow and the rest of the
country. Putin himself is from the provinces and therefore has the advantage
of being viewed favourably by many of the governors and presidents who have
always been suspicious of the Moscow elite. He will also be able to count on
the middle class whose demise was rather too hastily announced after the
disaster of the summer of 1998. These very different sections of society were
all the more badly affected because the initial dynamic effects of reform had
left them feeling they were safe at last.
Like the majority of Russians, they detest the oligarchs and their practices,
but are certainly prepared to back the relaunching of reforms, including to
see order restored - provided there is no backtracking on the main gains in
the area of individual rights.
The surprise decision to form a tactical alliance between the Bear (the new
"Party of Power") and the Communist Party in the Duma, just as Anatoly
Chubais chose to announce the triumphant return of a radical liberal right,
is an example of this determination to exploit all the twists and turns of
Russian politics. Putin justified it on the ground that he wanted to obtain a
broad consensus in favour of adopting the missing elements of institutional
reform. He has also commissioned a Centre for Strategic Studies to propose an
action programme that should be available in late February. We shall then
know a little more about the Putin reforms.
But for the time being, observers, both in Russia and abroad, will no doubt
focus on two key tests of this determination to steer a new course: the
resolution of the Chechen question and Putin's ability to revitalise the
economy and get to grips with the parallel economy and organised crime.
(1) Vladimir Putin, "Russia at the turn of the millennium", December 1999,
(2) "The common sense economy, ten pieces of advice for the government in the
year 2000", Rossiskaya Gazeta, 21 July 1999.
Translated by Julie Stoker