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Johnson's Russia List
9 April 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Russia Journal: Andrei Piontkovsky, The King-User.
2. BBC MONITORING: POLL SHOWS PUTIN ENJOYS MORE TRUST IN RUSSIA
THAN ANY OTHER LEADER.
3. The Sunday Times (UK): Mark Franchetti, Inside Moscow.
(Puppet satire has Putin spitting blood)
4. Amy Knight: RE Anne Applebaum's piece. (role of security services)
5. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: Insights on a 'Fort Boyard' Presidency.
6. The Globe and Mail (Canada): Geoffrey York, Mystery of Putin's
missing years. He acknowledges he was KGB agent for 16 years but won't
say what exactly he was up to at peak of Cold War.
7. Boston Globe: Charles Radin, Gorbachev, in Hub, warns US on
8. Baltimore Sun: Will Englund, War darkens Russia's European vision.
Integration with Europe appears unlikely after rebuke about Chechnya.
9. U.S. News and World Report: Mortimer Zuckerman, Can Putin put
Russia right? The new president is a strong man, but he faces daunting
10. The Sunday Times (UK): Mark Franchetti, Chechens wipe out
Russia's top troops.]
The Russia Journal
April 10-16, 2000
By ANDREI PIONTKOVSKY
Once every four years, Boris Berezovsky feels the need to announce urbi et
orbi who he has elected president. At the same time, he sets out his
elected president’s main tasks for the coming period.
Traditionally, he chooses the Financial Times as the mouthpiece for his
message. In 1996, he picked the London publication, while this year, it was
Moscow’s Vedemosti newspaper, published jointly by the Financial Times and
Wall Street Journal.
The famous 1996 interview became a manifesto for financial oligarchy – "We,
Russia’s seven leading businessmen, hired Anatoly Chubais as presidential
campaign manager, invested colossal money and ensured Boris Yeltsin’s
election. Now we have the right to join the government, take top posts
there and enjoy the fruits of our victory."
The tone and content of this statement were deliberately provocative and
insulting for President Yeltsin, then head of the presidential
administration, Chubais and Russia’s whole system of authority. It gave the
presidential administration only two options – either chase all the
oligarchs from the government jobs they grabbed with personal enrichment as
the sole aim, or keep silent and admit that Berezovsky was right.
The authorities kept silent. Only after a year had passed, in the summer of
1997, did they make a timid attempt to protest. The "young reformers" who
came into the government with Chubais at their head proposed that from then
on, the oligarchs play the game by new and transparent rules.
Revenge was quick to follow. The oligarchs unleashed their media on Chubais
in a campaign to destroy his moral reputation, reminding him of the
conditions under which he was hired for the 1996 campaign and the
recompense for his services.
As a result, the young reformers had to leave the government, and Yeltsin’s
second presidential term became an oligarchic feast with default as the
main course and scandals involving Aeroflot, Mabetex and the Bank of New
York as dessert.
Four years passed. Election time came around once more, and there again was
Chubais, telling us about a new stage in liberal reforms, separation of
money and power and distance from the oligarchs. All under the enlightened
reign of the new President Vladimir Putin. But what does Chubais’ one-time
employer and later opponent Boris Berezovsky have to say?
Question: "Do you believe that Putin can really distance the oligarchs from
power, and how would he do it?
Answer: "He needs a victory in the first round. Like any normal politician,
he’s taking a pragmatic approach. He said that the oligarchs should be
distanced from power. That’s normal, absolutely correct. But it’s
impossible to do. The words are correct. They’re spoken for the voter."
Berezovsky is staking out his claim on Russia’s second president.
Berezovsky generously lets Putin say the right words during his election
campaign but warns him sternly not to try going beyond the bounds of what’s
possible after his election. A few deft strokes for Putin’s benefit paint
the history and context of their relations.
We see an insignificant bureaucrat, "in no way standing out among the
others," who goes on to become director of the FSB (Federal Security
Service) and then comes uninvited to the family gathering of an oligarch
under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office to express his respect and
loyalty. And finally, now –
Question: "Does Putin have any capital backing him?"
Answer: "Of course. What do you think; am I not capital? And what about the
others who’ve backed not [Yury] Luzhkov and [Yevgeny] Primakov but put
their stakes on Putin?"
Once again, the authorities kept silent.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center of Strategic Research.)
POLL SHOWS PUTIN ENJOYS MORE TRUST IN RUSSIA THAN ANY OTHER LEADER
Source: Russian Public TV, Moscow, in Russian 1700 gmt 8 Apr 00
Our previous programme did not feature the results of All-Russia public
opinion polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation. But we are now
returning again to the issue of trust in leading politicians. We are
returning precisely to the issue of trust rather than the issue of virtual
voting in favour of the president in some hypothetical weekly elections.
Do you trust this particular politician? Here are the results of answers to
this question: a total of 47 per cent trust President-elect Vladimir Putin
and 20 per cent mistrust him. He is followed by Kemerovo Region governor
Aman-Geldy Tuleyev who is trusted by 24 per cent of those polled and
mistrusted by 40 per cent. Also 24 per cent of respondents trust in Communist
leader Gennadiy Zyuganov and 53 per cent mistrust him. A total of 11 per cent
trust Yabloko leader Grigoriy Yavlinskiy and 66 per cent mistrust him.
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy is at the bottom of the
list, with 7 per cent of respondents who trust and 77 per cent of those who
Here is one more important issue - it is about people's trust in the
institutions of power. A total of 14 per cent of those polled trust the State
Duma [parliament's lower chamber] and 46 per cent mistrust it. A total of 24
per cent trust the government and 32 per cent mistrust it.
(According to on-screen information, the poll was conducted among 1,500
respondents at 56 population areas in 29 regions of Russia on 27th-28th March
The Sunday Times (UK)
9 April 2000
[for personal use only]
By Mark Franchetti
Puppet satire has Putin spitting blood
Crime may rise and the rouble may fall, but nothing infuriates Moscow's
political elite so much as Kukly, the Russian equivalent of Spitting Image.
Boris Yeltsin, the former president, is said to have hated the Sunday night
television satire so much that he refused to watch it. Now Kremlin aides of
Vladimir Putin, his successor, take it so seriously that they have warned the
producers to tone down their sketches where he is concerned.
The latest dispute between the programme makers and the public figures they
portray was prompted by an elaborate 20-minute sketch in which leading
politicians were presented as prostitutes flirting with Putin.
Gennady Seleznyov, the Speaker of the Duma, the lower house of parliament,
and Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, appeared as rival madams vying for a
kerb-crawling Putin's custom. Putin chose to favour Seleznyov, and crammed
his limousine with political allies in full make-up and drag.
Kukly's scriptwriters said they were simply mocking the alacrity with which
some of Putin's opponents rushed to support him shortly before he was
elected. They claimed the sketch was inspired by Vladimir Lenin, father of
the 1917 revolution, who likened Russia's politicians to prostitutes.
Duma deputies were not amused. Some responded with demands for the programme
to be banned. Others called for a parliamentary commission to "evaluate"
Kukly, with a view to seeing what could be done about it.
NTV, the independent channel that broadcasts Kukly, is also coming under
financial pressure from state creditors. Critics believe that Kremlin
officials, who loathe NTV's impartial news reports, may be trying to muzzle
"People from the Kremlin have dropped heavy hints," said Vasili Grigoryev,
Kukly's senior producer. "We have been told to be more balanced and to avoid
creating a scandal every week. But we are not going to change anything.
"Our audience is almost as large as the number of people who voted for Putin,
so there are quite a few Russians with a sense of humour."
Arresting by numbers
Major Nikolai Zelenko of the Moscow Metro police reckons he's found the
solution to law-and-
order problems on the city's underground. He recently ordered officers to
arrest 100 people each in the next 10 days.
Similar quotas are being issued on the streets. Each beat officer must arrest
800 people a year. With 10,000 police on patrol, 8m people - four-fifths of
the population - can expect to be detained.
Zelenko may soon be feeling rather lonely.
Bride's latest flame
It was a Soviet tradition that newly married couples would visit one of two
famous Moscow landmarks on their wedding day: the Lenin hills, from which the
entire capital can be seen; or a flame that burns in memory of an unknown
soldier outside the Kremlin.
In more materialistic times, some brides and grooms are bound to prefer a
less patriotic landmark. Ikea, the Swedish furniture shop, attracted a bride
in full wedding dress and her entire party on its opening day last month.
Clamour for the slammer
An unemployed geographer was so impressed with the quality of Swiss jails he
saw on television that he has offered to serve any prison sentence handed
down to Pavel Borodin, a former Kremlin property manager who is wanted in
Switzerland on corruption charges.
While Borodin has refused to be questioned by Swiss investigators, Alexander
Zabegailo, 42, has written to a Moscow newspaper asking to be extradited in
"In prison they will feed me and provide me with medical assistance. I would
have time to study German and work on a computer," he wrote.
"It's much better," he concluded, "than a life of freedom in Russia."
Car wrecks have been hoisted on poles next to some of Moscow's busiest roads
as a warning to drivers to slow down. The city authorities claim that after
only one month, the initiative has reduced accidents.
One driver, however, is unimpressed. He was so amazed to see a wreck
suspended over the road that he couldn't take his eyes off it - and crashed
into the vehicle in front.
Vladimir Putin may have thought his first-round election victory last month
augured well for his presidency. Some of Russia's leading astrologers
According to them, Putin, a Libran, has a dangerous link between the sun and
Saturn, which makes him likely to be violent.
Just as well, then, that he has a "weak Jupiter". "That means he won't be
president for long," they say.
From: Aknight613@aol.com (Amy Knight)
Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000
Subject: Anne Applebaum's piece
Dear JLR Readers:
Anne Applebaum's piece "Secret Agent Man," for the Weekly Standard (JRL
4230) was, in my opinion, right on the mark in evaluating the role of
Russia's security services in Russia today. It is true, as she says, that
Putin's appointment to the prime ministership in 1999 did not represent a
resurgence of the security services. The resurgence began much earlier. In
fact, while Applebaum says it began in the autumn of 1993, I would say that
Yeltsin started to rebuild and strengthen the KGB successor agencies in early
1992, when the first laws governing the operations of these agencies were
April 8, 2000
EDITORIAL: Insights on a 'Fort Boyard' Presidency
The Moscow Times has not yet obtained a transcript of the following cell
phone conversation. But we are working on it.
Oligarch B: Have you taken care of Volodya? We've got a lot of work to get
done - we can't have him around underfoot all of the time. It was really
embarrassing having to correct him in front of everyone on the St. Petersburg
elections, you know - particularly after I promised in that Vedomosti
interview how he could make his own mistakes.
Official V: Yes, well, today he's off in the Far North. He's riding an ice
breaker, then a submarine, then watching a missile-firing exercise ...
Oligarch B: What! All three at once!? No, no, no! Listen, we need to husband
these amusements! There are only so many distractions you can throw at an
energetic national-security guy like Volodya. Already you've wasted the
fighter jet - I don't know why you did that, when he wasn't even elected yet
- and you've even let him play with the nuclear button to the point that he's
already bored with it.
Official V: Relax, relax - I've got it all figured out.
Oligarch B: Don't even tell me about the Mir. That would be great, I agree,
and I'm sure he'd go for it, whatever he says. But c'mon, it would be an
international scandal - sending your president into space for three months.
Official V: Well, it'd be less of a scandal if they all knew what we know,
Uproarious laughter all around.
Official V: Anyway, like I say, it's all taken care of. I've arranged for
Volodya, Ivanov and Sergeyev to all compete as a team on "Fort Boyard" - you
know, the French adventure game show that's always on NTV.
Oligarch B: The one on the island, where they all battle dwarves and tigers?
Official V: That's the one. He'll be in training for weeks. He's already
spent the afternoon picking out his running shoes and tank top, and also tank
tops for Ivanov and Sergeyev.
Oligarch B: Yes, but you realize, he has to win. Can you arrange that?
Official V: Have you ever heard of a game show that couldn't be rigged?
Oligarch B: Hmm. I think you're on to something here.
Official V: Wait, there's more. Next up, in a few months, he's a contestant
on Fomenko's "Extreme Situations." Air! Fire! Water!
Oligarch B: Will NTV agree? Will Volodya win?
Official V: I've already put in the call to Vneshekonombank. They'll agree.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
8 April 2000
Mystery of Putin's missing years
He acknowledges he was KGB agent for 16 years but won't say what
exactly he was up to at peak of Cold War
By GEOFFREY YORK <email@example.com>
Leipzig -- The young Soviet diplomat called himself Alexander Rybin. He
spoke excellent German, kept a close eye on underground youth culture, and
knew the exact number of punk rockers in East Germany in the early 1980s.
Officially, he was a vice-consul of the Soviet consulate in Leipzig,
East Germany, in 1984. But he bore a striking resemblance to early photos
of a KGB agent named Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Putin, who will be sworn into office next month as Russia's
president, has acknowledged he was a KGB agent for 16 years. Yet his
biography still shows a mysterious blank spot in the early 1980s, at the
peak of the Cold War.
He has confirmed that he worked for the KGB in Dresden, East Germany,
from 1985 to 1990, before returning to the Soviet Union. There are
intriguing hints, however, that he may have entered East or West Germany as
early as 1982 or 1983 -- for tasks that he apparently doesn't want to reveal.
German sources, one of them a former senior officer in the East German
secret police, believe Mr. Putin visited West Germany on several occasions
from 1982 to 1984 under a false identity.
If confirmed, this could complicate relations between Germany and the
new Russian leader, casting an ominous new light on Mr. Putin's history as
Some analysts believe Moscow and Berlin have a strong interest in
keeping quiet about Mr. Putin's espionage, to avoid any awkward diplomatic
problems etween two countries with a growing financial relationship. "The
Germans want to keep this a closed book," one Western diplomat said.
Natalya Gevorkyan, a Russian journalist who interviewed Mr. Putin
extensively last month for a pre-election biography, says the acting
president never explained exactly what he did in the early 1980s. But she
believes he may have been involved in a special KGB group that was being
trained for illegal espionage in the West.
In 1987, Mr. Putin was awarded a bronze medal by the Stasi, the East
German secret police. It is normally awarded after five years of service,
according to a senior German security official.
"It would have been very unusual to get a medal in just two years," said
the official, who has access to the archives of the East German secret
police and spoke on condition of anonymity.
"There are some indications that he could have been in Germany in 1983.
It looks like it was 1983, although it's not clear. Various sources speak
In the archives of the German Foreign Ministry, there is a photograph of
a Soviet diplomat identified as Alexander Rybin, who was accredited in East
Germany from 1982 to 1986.
The Globe and Mail has requested permission to see the photo, but the
German government so far has not let anyone outside the government see it.
Birgit Kmezik, an official in a German Foreign Ministry division that
holds former East German diplomatic documents, has seen the photo and says
there is "considerable similarity" between it and the photos of Mr. Putin
she has seen in newspapers and on television. Both seem to have the same
facial features, the same type of hair, and even the same style of combing
the hair, she said.
Only a single small index card is attached to the passport-style
photograph of the Soviet diplomat. It shows an accreditation stamp for
every year from 1982 to 1986. It also shows a birth date in 1947, five
years before Mr. Putin's real birth date, although this detail could have
Uwe Mueller, a foreign-policy researcher in Leipzig who worked as an
East German bureaucrat in the 1980s, is convinced that Alexander Rybin and
Vladimir Putin are the same person. He met the Soviet diplomat several
times in the first half of 1984 and still has a faded business card with
the diplomat's name, identifying
him as vice-consul of the Soviet consulate in Leipzig.
Like the Russian president-elect, Mr. Rybin was a short man who spoke
almost flawless German, never smoked and seldom drank, Mr. Mueller said in
The diplomat seemed to have an unusual degree of freedom in the
consulate and never seemed to deal with visas or other routine work, Mr.
Mueller said. Instead he was knowledgeable about dissident youth and
religious groups, and he wanted to know Mr. Mueller's opinion of the mood
of East German youth. That diplomat
also said he had previously worked in the West German cities of Bonn and
Hamburg, presumably in 1983.
He disappeared from the Leipzig consulate in the second half of 1984.
Asked what happened to him, his successor told Mr. Mueller that he was
still somewhere in East Germany. But he hinted that the diplomat in
question was now in a military or intelligence job.
In Russian media interviews, Mr. Putin has said he graduated from
Leningrad State University in 1975 and spent seven years in various KGB
jobs and intelligence training posts, mostly in Leningrad.
Then he went to a special espionage training institute in Moscow,
apparently around 1982. But he has never disclosed what he did after
leaving the institute, until his posting to Dresden in 1985.
When his biographers asked him whether he had travelled to West Germany
during his KGB years, Mr. Putin gave an evasive answer: "Not during my work
in East Germany."
In early 1984, in the first meeting between Mr. Mueller and the man who
called himself Mr. Rybin, the diplomat told him that Moscow was concerned
about the mood of young East Germans. He seemed remarkably knowledgeable,
Mr. Mueller said. "He knew the exact number of punk rockers in East Germany."
Joachim Bachmann, who worked in counterintelligence for the Stasi in
Leipzig from 1973 to 1990, says his Stasi contacts have told him that Mr.
Putin was gathering political intelligence as a spy in East and West
Germany from 1982 to 1984, probably travelling from Moscow on occasional
assignments under the cover of being a journalist.
8 April 2000
[for personal use only]
Gorbachev, in Hub, warns US on missile plan
By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff
A US decision, expected this summer, to deploy a national missile defense
system could deeply sour relations with Russia and derail the fledgling
administration of Vladimir V. Putin, Russian and American specialists said
Putin, the newly elected president, has started out positively by reassuring
Western leaders and warming Russia's relations with Europe and the United
States after a yearlong deep freeze following NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.
But ''Putin is not yet a complete person,'' former Soviet president Mikhail
Gorbachev said at a conference at Northeastern University sponsored by the
Gorbachev Foundation of North America. ''He is a well-educated person, a
cultured person, but he has not yet much experience at statecraft.''
Russian and American scholars and diplomats at the conference, and US and
NATO officials who discussed Putin in interviews earlier this week, described
the leader as calm, methodical, and level-headed. But they warned that an
early decision by the United States to deploy a missile defense system is
likely to elicit a sharp response.
''A decision in June would be driven entirely by domestic political
considerations, to keep this out of the campaign debate so that Bush could
not come after Gore on it,'' said Jack Matlock Jr., former US ambassador to
the Soviet Union.
''I don't believe Putin would react in a fiery way, not like [Boris N.]
Yeltsin. But there would be no ratification of START II, no negotiation of
START III,'' Matlock said, referring to the arms-reduction pacts. ''There
would be a change in Russian defense doctrine, and no continuation of
reductions'' in arms already in progress.
National missile defense systems are clear violations of the Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty, which has been a cornerstone of the US-Russian defense
posture since the Cold War. Because neither side had missile defenses, each
was vulnerable to the other's vast arsenal of nuclear weapons - which
deterred both sides from starting anything.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, there is
scant chance of a US-Russian war. But US defense theorists fear there will
soon be a number of smaller states - North Korea and Iraq are most often
mentioned - that could become capable of launching nuclear missile attacks.
To counter that threat, some advocate deploying a missile defense system.
Such a move would require either negotiations with Russia to amend the ABM
treaty or US withdrawal from the treaty. Since President Clinton has agreed
with military leaders to make a decision this summer, specialists point out,
there is no time for credible negotiations with Russia.
''Putin was elected as a strong leader who would restore Russian credibility
and respect in the world,'' said Alexander Bessmertnykh, a former Russian
foreign minister, ''so action like that may cause him to take drastic
reaction. His vulnerability is feeling he has to act as the public expects
him to act.
''Let him have at least a year'' before the ABM-missile defense decisions are
made, Bessmertnykh counseled.
Gorbachev described Putin as ''someone who can quickly learn. The important
thing is that he have the right teachers.''
While there is broad agreement among specialists that Putin if off to a
positive start, there are misgivings about his career as an officer of the
KGB, the intelligence service of the Soviet Union, about his associations
with Russian underworld figures, and about his commitment to free speech.
''Putin has said the right things to foreign ministers. He has said the right
things to investors,'' said Anne Leahy, a former Canadian ambassador to
Russia. ''But we have to see how he acts. There are little signs about how he
will act on human rights that are worrisome.''
Citing several cases before the Russian courts, she said: ''He wants to
restore order, fine. But you can't extend `order' to arresting journalists
who are merely looking into sensitive matters.''
Similarly, Marshall I. Goldman, professor of Russian economics at Wellesley
College, said Putin ''clearly is a product of the KGB.''
''When he says `democracy is the dictatorship of law,' I find that scary,''
Goldman said. ''And `the stronger the state, the freer the individual''' - a
statement Putin made in an open letter to voters in the newspaper Izvestia
before the election - ''sounds just like something out of George Orwell.''
Goldman said that while Putin is bringing some good people into government,
he also is bringing in associates from his KGB days.
Current political leaders, at least in their public statements, are much less
critical of the Russian president.
US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in Boston on Thursday that
''we have to stop the psychobabble about the KGB thing'' and not be overly
suspicious of Putin's attempts to install people he trusts around him.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson, in an interview at the Globe on
Wednesday, credited Putin with moving to improve Russia-NATO relations and
reassure the West that he was not hostile even before his election as
president, first as prime minister and acting president.
''He's a guy who takes risks; he's bold, but he has a good nose for what the
public expects,'' Robertson said. ''He is not a soft touch, but there is
increasingly clarity even when we disagree. ... This is a guy who, because of
his background, is used to a certain amount of control. There was incoherence
in Russian policy. He is trying to make it more coherent.''
9 April 2000
[for personal use only]
War darkens Russia's European vision
Integration with Europe appears unlikely after rebuke about Chechnya
By Will Englund
MOSCOW -- Russia's decade-long dream of finding a place for itself within
Europe has been growing dimmer for some time, but now the war in Chechnya has
brought about a very public rupture and warnings of a new Iron Curtain
descending on the continent.
Last week, the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, which was set up
to safeguard human rights in its member nations, voted to recommend the
suspension of Russia's membership unless talks to end the fighting in
Chechnya begin. And it immediately deprived the Russian delegation of its
The rebuke provoked a quick and angry response.
"We should sort things out in Chechnya on our own, and we will sort things
out," Nikolai Koshman, the Kremlin's representative for Chechnya, said
Friday. "If anybody tries to come here and impose on us his own solutions,
this will be a very dangerous undertaking."
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the government's spokesman on Chechnya, said Russia was
immediately halting visits by the Council of Europe to the area of the
The Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexi II, accused the West of maintaining a
double standard and said he feared that Russia was going to be subjected to
the same treatment as Yugoslavia was last year.
A television commentator, Mikhail Leontiev, heaped abuse on Russia's severest
critic within the council, the British delegate Lord Judd, resorting almost
entirely to convict slang in his tirade.
The vote -- and the subsequent angry walkout by the Russian delegation from
the session in Strasbourg, France -- demonstrated Russia's failure to achieve
its goal of joining an integrated Europe. Ten years ago, before the Soviet
Union had fallen apart, hopes were high that Russia and Europe could break
down the old divisions. Russians talked of becoming a "normal" country.
President Boris N. Yeltsin pursued that goal wholeheartedly. Russia's
application to join the Council of Europe -- not the most forceful or
outspoken of organizations -- was accepted in 1996, and the nation gratefully
came on board.
All has turned sour since then. NATO expanded eastward, over Russian
objections. The Russian economic collapse of 1998 badly hurt European
investors, even as Russia's well-connected business tycoons secured their
immense holdings. NATO's war in Kosovo last year gave rise to deep misgivings
Criticism from West
Now the war in Chechnya has provoked intense criticism from the West --
especially Western Europe -- because of the scale of the destruction there
and widespread reports of murder, rape and looting by Russian forces. And,
with the vote in the Council of Europe, the West for the first time has taken
concrete action against Moscow.
"Russia will not fall down on its knees and beg," Leonid Fituni, director of
the Global and Strategic Studies Institute, said Friday. "We have been trying
to cooperate with Europe for 10 years. It took us great effort to join
Europe. That vote, though, will remind us of something -- 15 years ago we
weren't friends with Europe at all, but the whole world respected us."
Fituni said that for the West to ostracize Russia now would be to make the
same mistake as the victorious allies did when they imposed the harsh terms
of the Versailles Treaty on Germany after World War I.
"Germany," he said, "became not only strong but aggressive, and the result
was a second world war."
Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights commissioner, said the Council of
Europe's action threatens to divide Europe with a new "Iron Curtain," in
remarks that were echoed by several officials.
Popular war at home
Russia portrays the conflict in Chechnya as a legitimate struggle against
terrorists and bandits, and an internal affair. The war continues to be
popular among the public, and it vaulted Vladimir V. Putin into the
presidency. Russian officials complain that the West seems to overlook
atrocities committed by Chechen rebels in its zeal to condemn Moscow's
tactics -- which have created tens of thousands of refugees and flattened
scores of villages and towns.
The Russian military is considerably more tolerant of casualties than its
Western counterparts. If thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians have
been killed and wounded since the fighting broke out in August, few in Moscow
appear to be perturbed.
Russia takes strong exception to the developing idea in the West that the
internal affairs of a nation are not off-limits when a certain level of abuse
is reached. It helps explain what underlies Russia's new estrangement from
The West is infected with anti-Russian sentiment, said Sergei Markov,
director of the Institute of Political Studies, but Russian leadership is
also to blame.
"First of all," he said, "for its outdated understanding of sovereignty --
for failing to understand that it is impossible to use force as one likes in
the modern world and say this is our sovereign problem. And, secondly, for
paying little attention to the problems of the civilian population and
In the first Chechen war, in 1994-1996, the West muted its criticisms, Markov
said, because it had confidence in Yeltsin -- or at least a desire not to
undermine him. Putin, a KGB veteran with no political record, enjoys no such
The new president has been reaping the rewards domestically for pursuing a
popular war, but he appears to be unable or unwilling to moderate his policy
pronouncements for foreign consumption. Putin, for example, excoriated Andrei
Babitsky, a Radio Liberty reporter who was taken captive by Russian forces in
January and handed over to Chechens as if he were a hostage.
In an interview with the Kommersant newspaper, Putin said that if Babitsky
had broken Russian laws the Russian government was under no obligation to
treat him according to the law.
Last week, he refused to meet Mary Robinson, the United Nations Human Rights
commissioner, after her visit to the Caucasus.
On Friday, Putin met with representatives of the European Union, and
afterward he said, "We will continue patiently to explain our actions, and we
will try to integrate with Europe."
U.S. News and World Report
April 17, 2000
[for personal use only]
Can Putin put Russia right?
The new president is a strong man, but he faces daunting problems
By Mortimer B. Zuckerman
A new national leader suddenly and surprisingly emerges from relative
obscurity. In months he soars in the polls from 2 percent approval to 53
percent. He swears that he will remove the corrupting role of money from
politics. The people are voting for him and not just voting against his
opponents. It's not John McCain. It's Vladimir Putin. The difference is that
Putin won, and he is now the president of Russia.
Is Putin a new strongman who will rescue Russia from its decadence? A nation
that has endured Lenin and Stalin and Khrushchev and Brezhnev may seem
entitled to relief from strongmen, but the accelerated descent into chaos
under Yeltsin has transformed the mood in Russia. The country cries out for
leadership. The intriguing thing is that nobody here really knows just how
Putin will deliver it. In a series of interviews with the political
establishment, I found agreement on only one point: Everyone is astonished at
Putin's rise to the pinnacle of power. The elite, no less than the Russian
people who voted for him, do not really know who he is, what he stands for,
or whom he will appoint into his government. In their conversations with him,
they report, he listens and he asks questions, yet afterward they still do
not know what he thinks.
In a relatively closed and complex country like Russia, a leader's character
is the best guide to how he will govern. In Putin's case, his biography gives
clues, though they may be hard to read accurately in the West. The man who
rose from a midlevel intelligence agent in East Germany to become the head of
the renamed KGB inevitably carries an aura of clandestine menace. Indeed, one
of Putin's strengths, if it can be rightly called that, is that he knows
where the bodies are buried and what is in everybody's personnel file.
To be fair, though, it should be noted that Putin came of age in the KGB in
the late '70s, when the KGB was pushing for action to address the decline in
the Soviet Union. Putin was part of what is probably the best-educated,
best-traveled, and most sophisticated group in the old Soviet Union. He is
the first Russian leader since Lenin to have lived abroad. He saw firsthand
how his country had fallen behind. The KGB knew better than anyone else how
corruption, inefficiency, and cynicism had gripped the Soviet Union and then
flowered in post-Communist Russia, and it was the KGB that pressed hard to
end this national degradation. He also has experience of how hard it is to
achieve reform in post-Communist Russia. In an interim period in his security
career, he served a number of years as the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg,
assisting one of the leading post-Communist reformers, Anatoli Sobchak. Those
who dealt with Putin then recall him as an effective executive, more
interested in getting things done than in enriching himself, which put him in
contrast with many of those who worked with him. His honesty was matched by a
capacity for loyalty. He stuck by the side of Sobchak, even after the mayor
had fallen from grace. It was Putin's reputation for loyalty and
incorruptibility that prompted Yeltsin to select him as a successor last fall.
An enforcer. My interviews with Russian leaders suggest that Putin is a
hardworking man, willing to make tough decisions and enforce them, with
substantial organizational talent. He seems to be a pragmatist rather than an
ideologue. He approaches his jobs in a simple and efficient way, identifying
a problem, developing a plan for its solution, and then mobilizing the
resources to carry it out. He does not, by Western standards, have charisma
or much of a sense of humor, but he uses language and symbols that resonate
with the Russian people.
With Putin, there is no whiff of vodka. In this sense, he is the
anti-Yeltsin. Yeltsin was the hero of the democratic hour, but it was a short
hour before his drunkenness, ill health, and cronyism betrayed the nation.
Putin conveys a sense of order to a society that is weary of disorder. One
colleague told me he called with congratulations after the election and asked
what Putin would like to do. He responded: "What I would like to do is go to
sleep." Here is a man who did not grow up thinking of his entire life in
terms of politics and who expresses astonishment at his own public position.
Still, it is not easy to read the man. He places tremendous emphasis on the
strengthening of the Russian state, but his remarks, particularly about the
"dictatorship of the law," have aroused anxiety about what he means by a
strong state. Will its strength be manifest in protecting rights or trampling
them? His many years in the KGB and the high proportion of his current allies
from state security invite a certain skepticism about him even before he
starts to govern. But make no mistake about it: The Russian political
establishment and many of the Russian people believe that the only
institution capable of restoring civic order out of Russia's turmoil is the
Dismal days. Putin certainly understands the Russian mentality when he
emphasizes simple concepts like the strength of the state, authority for the
political leadership, and patriotism. Some 75 percent of Russians regret the
breakup of the Soviet Union, and 95 percent want Russia to have a world-class
army. But they are deeply pessimistic. In a poll taken in 1999 by the
Marttila Communications Group, 78 percent said they believe their country is
headed in the wrong direction; only 7 percent believe that it is headed in
the right direction; 72 percent believe the economy is very bad; 27 percent
think it is poor. Remarkably, zero percent believe the economy is good or
getting better. A majority think that economic conditions are worsening, that
they will experience wage or pension arrears, that either they or a family
member will lose their jobs. This is the only poll where zero percent believe
the economy is good or getting better. One out of five reports lacking money
for food, and nearly one half think there is enough money just for the
The facts warrant the gloom. About 50 million people, more than a third of
the population, live below the official poverty line of about $37 a month,
and there has been a social and demographic breakdown unprecedented for a
modern country with an educated population. Some 86 percent believe medical
service is worse than under communism; 91 percent believe the opportunity to
find good work is worse; 96 percent believe that crime is worse; most think
that the educational system is breaking down.
The result is a level of anguish and suffering reflected in alcoholism,
suicide, and early death rates among men that is simply unimaginable to the
average American. Over 70 percent of the Russian people believe that the past
two years have been the hardest of their lives.
How could so much have gone wrong? In retrospect the answer seems clear, even
to the Russians. The money that was lent to and given to Russia did not
generate more production. The capital was simply soaked up in consumption and
corruption. The reformers turned into thieves, taking the vast amounts of
Western assistance, moving it out of Russia, and investing it in the West.
The state institutions, especially the law enforcement agencies, are
atrophied. Crime and corruption have engulfed the society. The Interior
Ministry has announced that over 53,000 crimes were committed by government
officials alone last year, a rise of 36 percent from the preceding year.
Russia has degenerated into a country in which the state can't even pay
pensions to war veterans and where bribes are paid more routinely than taxes,
where workers who were once badly treated by Communist managers are now badly
treated by capitalist managers.
Putin has to contend with the horror that criminality has reached the highest
levels of government. The ex-Communists used legal and illegal means to turn
their power to wealth and then their wealth into powerâ€“and neither the
nor the prosecutors go after the corrupt politicians or the business people,
or the Mafia-like gangs entrenched in so many cities. At least under
communism the Russians felt, "Well, we are all in this together." But now
they have to live cheek by jowl with a new class of super-rich. No wonder
they have so little faith in the country's democratic political system.
According to the Marttila poll, 88 percent believe their government doesn't
care what happens to them; 85 percent believe most Russian officials are
corrupt; 89 percent believe that a small handful of rich people are ruling
Russia for all practical purposes. Russia's long tradition of suffering, at
the hands of the communist state and the czars before them, has helped defer
a social explosion.
Putin knows that the key to Rus- sia's future is reviving the economy. He has
to stanch the flow of billions of dollars of capital fleeing every year to
convince Russians that money is secure and to convince them to pay taxes. In
the '90s, an estimated $180 billion flowed out of the country and only $10
billion came in, a net capital flight that exceeded all lending from
financial institutions and other countries. Now funds are flowing out at the
rate of about $2.5 billion a month. Those who keep money at home hoard it in
dollars and report as little of their income as they can. Overall, capital
investment has dropped by as much as 90 percent. Foreign capital is scared:
More foreign investment flows into Peru than into Russia.
Russia, in short, is not just facing an economic catastrophe; it is living
it. How can Putin redirect what capital is generated into meaningful economic
activity? How can Putin create an environment in which capital stays in the
country for investment? To attract investment he has first to promote a
reliable banking system and the rule of law. Contracts have to be made
binding, and corruption has to be eliminated. Paradoxically, since it is the
politically connected oligarchs who control the vast majority of the $30
billion generated annually, most of it in hard currency from the sale of
natural resources abroad, Putin must deal with the oligarchs very carefully,
lest he frighten them into permanently withdrawing their profits and capital.
Rule of law. Putin is going to have to strengthen the state and make sure
that there is rule-based and law-based economic behavior. That is what he
says he means by his intention to enforce a "dictatorship of the law." It is
a welcome statement. It is the only way he can remonetize with a sound ruble
an economy that is now functioning primarily through barter and a
confiscatory tax system. He believes a strong state is indispensable to the
functioning of a market economy and to the transformation of robber
capitalism into legitimate capitalism. Only a strong state, he maintains, can
support an honest civil service and a judiciary.
His immediate nightmare is that Russia has a huge external debt of about $160
billion that requires about $1 billion a month in principal to be repaid.
That doesn't take into account that he will have to pay to buy as much as 10
million metric tons of grain to feed his population. Given that foreign loans
are no longer available, he may have to spend his limited hard-currency
reservesâ€“but that will further undermine the ruble and increase inflation.
The Russia that Putin takes over is rich in natural resources, but its people
are poor, the country is dispirited, and physical plants in industry and
agriculture are worn out. The entire national revenues for the central
government amount to about $25 billion today, only about two thirds the
budget of New York City. And out of this he has to support the military,
social services, and law and order.
It is no longer appropriate for the West to fund flawed economic policies. It
is Russia that has to reform itself. In the enigmatic and intriguing Putin,
it seems it may have the best hope since the collapse of communism.
The Sunday Times (UK)
9 April 2000
[for personal use only]
Chechens wipe out Russia's top troops
Mark Franchetti, Moscow
THE Russian soldiers who set off 11 days ago on a routine sweep through a
village in southeast Chechnya were in exuberant spirits. It was a bright
spring morning. Well trained and heavily armed, the crack troops of the Omon
interior ministry forces believed they had nothing to fear. They laughed and
joked as their column lurched and jolted along winding mountain tracks.
Less than an hour after leaving the safety of their base, the men were
trapped: surrounded by Chechen rebels who outnumbered them four to one and
fired from all sides with grenade launchers, machineguns and sniper rifles.
When the battle ended, the bodies of 36 Russians lay slumped in mud and blood
around the remnants of the convoy. A further seven were missing, presumed
executed. Only five men survived and the ferocity they described as they
recovered last week demolished Russian claims that the war in Chechnya was
all but over.
Instead, the survivors' accounts evoked memories of the previous conflict in
1994-96, when spring foliage gave the rebels cover, melting snow increased
their mobility and repeated hit-and-run attacks turned the war in their
Vladimir Kurakhin, a 35- year-old Russian lieutenant, had asked to be
baptised on the eve of his return to Chechnya last month for a second tour of
duty. He was happy to go back, still intoxicated by the heroes' welcome that
he and his comrades had received in their home town of Perm, 800 miles
northeast of Moscow, after their first tour.
His unit's mission on March 29 seemed simple enough. It had been ordered to
go to the village of Dargo several miles east of Vedeno, former stronghold of
Shamil Basayev, the Chechen guerrilla commander. Dargo was officially under
Russian control. Kurakhin's unit of 40 troops, plus a handful of militiamen,
was to check for any sign of rebels.
It set off at 8am, three hours late because one of the three vehicles
travelling in the convoy had run out of fuel. There were rumours that a radio
conversation between Chechen rebels planning an ambush had been intercepted.
The rumours were ignored.
Grinding slowly up a track lined by trees and dense undergrowth, the convoy,
travelling without escort or air cover, soon reached a Russian checkpoint
where its commander was warned that the road ahead was under Chechen control.
Again, the warning was ignored.
"We had strict orders and could not turn back," Kurakhin said. "We had a
truck full of grenade launchers and ammunition, so we just moved on."
Two miles down the road, on the edge of the village of Zhani-Vedeno, the
column came to an abrupt halt. "The first truck suddenly broke down," said
Alexander Garres, another Omon officer from Perm. "We didn't know it then,
but the Chechens were only a few metres away."
About 200 were hiding in the undergrowth, ready to ambush the convoy from the
rear. They held their fire as the column stopped in front of them. Russian
soldiers took up positions around it and a driver poked his head under a
Valentin Simonov, the unit's commander, became suspicious of a bombed-out
house near the village. He walked up and swung open the door.
"All I heard was Valentin shouting, 'Put your guns down and we won't shoot',"
said Kurakhin. "Then a Chechen voice shouted, 'God is great!' That's when all
hell broke loose.
"Valentin was killed on the spot. The Chechens started firing from all sides.
We were taken completely by surprise.
"The truck with our ammunition and grenade launchers took several direct hits
and blew up, leaving us only with Kalashnikovs. I took cover between an
armoured personnel carrier and the other truck. Then I shot round after round
in the direction of the Chechens without ever seeing one of them.
"The noise was deafening. There were flames and thick smoke and terrifying
screams. My comrades were lying all over the place.
"Sasha, my closest friend, was hit in the chest by a sniper. I crawled over
to him shouting, telling him to move. I ripped his uniform open to help, but
he was already dead. His chest was covered in blood. I kept shouting at
others who were lying on the ground to move from their positions, but they
too were already dead."
One Omon officer managed to make radio contact with the base in Vedeno. A
second column of 100 reinforcements was dispatched, but was stopped in its
tracks several hundred yards from the site of the ambush by dozens of
Chechens firing from both sides. At least three of its soldiers were killed
and 16 were wounded, forcing the column to withdraw.
At 2.30pm radio contact with the first Omon unit was lost. The wounded were
still coming under fire from snipers who were intent on finishing them off.
Some injured Russians detonated grenades beneath their chests rather than
fall into rebel hands.
Kurakhin, Garres and three others took advantage of a last burst of gunfire
from the Russian personnel carrier to slip away to safety.
The ambush, one of several in recent weeks, was a serious embarrassment for
the Kremlin, which insisted for at least two days afterwards that only three
men had been lost. It has since begun an inquiry into the incident, which it
blames on a lack of co-ordination.
Vladimir Putin, elected president last month, owes much of his popularity to
his tough handling of the war. But official insistence that victory is
imminent carries little conviction. The latest polls show 60% of Russians
believe the conflict will go on for a long time.
European Union representatives claimed this weekend that Putin was preparing
to announce a political settlement in Chechnya, perhaps as early as this
week. Yet the military are pressing ahead with the recruitment of 200,000
more soldiers, most of whom are expected to serve in Chechnya.
The survivors of the Zhani-Vedeno ambush hope these recruits will be well
led. "We should never have been allowed to go up that road. Those taking
decisions are to blame," Garres said.
"How will I go on living now? How can I look into the eyes off my dead
comrades' mothers without feeling ashamed at being alive?"