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Johnson's Russia List
9 May 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
Over 30 WWII Veterans Get New Cars from Putin.
KURSK, May 8 (Itar-Tass) - Over 30 World War II veterans received new Oka
cars from President Vladimir Putin who visited Kursk on Monday.
Accepting the president, one of the veterans, Ivan Dorofeyev, told the
president, "Russia has never been on its knees before anyone. I am confident
you will make sure that it will not have to do so in the future either. We
believe in you".
Stalin Depicted on Russian Money for First Time
MOSCOW, May 5, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) The Russian central bank has
circulated coins bearing the faces of the "Big Three" to commemorate the 55th
anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II, the Russian daily
Kommersant reported Friday.
The faces of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, former US president Harry
Truman and former British prime minister Winston Churchill are pictured on a
limited collection of 500 commemorative coins, each valued at 100 rubles
(3.50 dollars / 3.15 euros).
The three leaders met at the Potsdam conference in July and August 1945 to
implement previous agreements made in Yalta and set up a new system of rule
for a defeated Nazi Germany.
Churchill was replaced by Clement Attlee at the Potsdam negotiating table
after losing in British elections.
Stalin was never pictured on bank notes during the Soviet era, although his
face appeared on military medals given to millions of war veterans "for the
victory over Germany," the daily reported.
"The central bank has given new life to the image of Stalin's guiding role 55
years after victory over the Nazis and 10 years after the fall of communism,"
Russia: Prosecutors Probe Maskhadov's Interviews
By Floriana Fossato
After official warnings to two newspapers for publishing interviews with
Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, Russian prosecutors now say they want to
question the journalists who carried out the interviews. RFE/RL correspondent
Floriana Fossato reports.
London, 8 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian prosecutors say they intend to
interrogate correspondents from two journals that recently published
interviews with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.
The prosecutors made their announcement last week (May 4) after Russia's
ministry for media affairs issued formal warnings to the daily "Kommersant"
and the weekly "Novaya Gazeta" for publishing the Maskhadov interviews.
Yuri Biryukov -- head of the Prosecutor General's Office for the North
Caucasus -- said the whereabouts of "Kommersant" reporter Musa Muratov and
"Novaya Gazeta's" Viktor Popkovich would be investigated. He said the formal
inquiry was being undertaken as a part of an ongoing criminal case against
Maskhadov, who is accused of organizing an armed rebellion.
Before the March presidential election, the media ministry [the Ministry for
Press, Broadcasting Media and Information] said it would consider any
interview with Chechen leaders that appeared in either Russian or foreign
media operating on Russian territory as a violation of the law on terrorism.
Moscow has consistently blamed the war in Chechnya on what it calls
"terrorists" and "bandits."
Deputy media minister Mikhail Seslavinsky later qualified the ban by saying
Russian journalists could meet and interview Chechen leaders -- as long as
they did not disseminate materials that "justified" or "incited" terrorist
activities. But Russian monitoring groups have criticized this and other
moves promoted by the media ministry since its creation last year.
Robert Coalson is a program director for the Saint Petersburg-based National
Press Institute, a non-governmental organization promoting Russian
independent media. He says Russia's media ministry acts arbitrarily and
deprives journalists of their right to do their job professionally:
"The system of warnings is the ministry's favorite way of dealing with the
press. It was characteristic of what it did during the [presidential]
election process as well. Rather then acting through a legal
precedent-setting system, it acts by using those warnings. The law on
covering these so-called 'terrorists,' on [not] providing air-time to anyone
the Russian government decides is a 'terrorist,' is a very vague one and is
written in that way on purpose. Actually, it is [an executive] decree, not a
According to Coalson, the ministry's decision two months ago to issue the
warnings was apparently part of an overall effort to intimidate media outlets
whose coverage of the Chechen war did not follow the Kremlin line. He says
the recent moves against "Kommersant" and "Novaya Gazeta," and their
reporters, seem to have the same purpose:
"The real effect of these warnings, and this basically bureaucratic
harassment, is to send a very direct message to all other journalists in
Russia that this could happen [to them] at any time. Much weaker organs than
'Novaya Gazeta' and 'Kommersant' are very easily influenced by such things,
and this clearly leads to self-censorship of materials that were written."
But other observers say the media ministry's moves against the two journals
was surprising because their interviews with Maskhadov contained nothing that
other media had not published or aired in previous weeks.
Talking to "Novaya Gazeta," for example, Maskhadov linked oligarch and
Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky - who controls "Kommersant" - to so-called
"rogue" Chechen guerrilla commanders. These commanders are said to
responsible for the attacks in Dagestan and on apartment bombings in Russia
that triggered Russia's military intervention last year.
But Maskhavov has said more or less the same thing in other interviews he has
given over the past two weeks. During that time, the Chechen president has
talked with Germany's Deutsche Welle radio, the French daily "Le Monde and
RFE/RL's Russian Service. The ministry has taken no action against these
According to Russian regulations, a second warning to the two journals would
allow the ministry to close the publications. That may why be why
"Kommersant" says it is filing a legal suit against the ministry. "Novaya
Gazeta" has not yet announced its intentions.
The reaction of other Russian media to the ministry has generally been
feeble. Few, if any, have expressed any outrage at what analyst Coalson says
is a transparent attempt at intimidation. Coalson describes the lack of
solidarity among Russian media -- and the entities that control them -- as
"perhaps the most disturbing thing" about the ministry's actions.
8 May 2000
[for personal use only]
FIRES OF WW II INSPIRE RUSSIA'S NOSTALGIC GLOW
By Colin McMahon
Tribune Foreign Correspondent
VOLGOGRAD, Russia -- Maxim Anokhin's pique is no match for the fury that
Above him looms a 300-foot statue of Mother Russia brandishing a sword and
exhorting Red Army soldiers onward against the fascist invaders of Nazi
Germany. Around him stand giant concrete statues of Russian warriors
performing brave and heroic acts during the Battle of Stalingrad. Behind him
burns an eternal torch honoring the Russian dead of World War II.
Anokhin is himself doing a slow burn. Some boys around 12 are horsing around
on the grounds of Russia's grandest war memorial, even wading in a pool at
the feet of a statue depicting a Russian mother cradling her dead soldier son.
Anokhin can scarcely believe it.
"Have you no brains?" he confronts a straggler struggling to put on a wet
shoe and climb out of the pool. Anokhin jabs at the boy's head with his index
"Where is your respect?" he says. "Scat. Pick up your things and get out of
The boy turns white and complies, not even pausing to put on his shoes.
"There," says Anokhin, 26. "You have a perfect example of what democracy has
Russia on Tuesday will celebrate Victory Day, the 55th anniversary of the
fall of Berlin to Soviet troops. For all its boundless horrors, the Great
Patriotic War resides in Russia's collective memory as probably the most
unifying, the most patriotic event in Russian history.
World War II holds a certain wistful quality for some Russians, even if they
weren't yet born.
Some see in the war years less of the uncertainty that many Russians find so
troubling today in a nation struggling to build a democracy and a free
market. Others see a justification for the strong hand that Josef Stalin
"Some of Stalin's policies were too tough," said Victor, a factory worker,
alluding presumably to the millions of people Stalin had killed or sent to
likely death in labor camps. "But he won the war. He knew for a long time
that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union and he prepared the country for it."
Victor scoffed at suggestions that Stalin, as the brunt of modern scholarship
shows, was caught shockingly off guard when Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet
Union in June 1941.
"That is propaganda," Victor said, hardening a bit. "American propaganda."
Volgograd, called Stalingrad during the war, was the site of one of the most
brutal and significant battles in military history.
The city was leveled during more than five months of bombing, shelling and
hand-to-hand street fighting. About 50,000 civilians were left to die in
Stalingrad, and all but about 10,000 of them did.
Nearly 500,000 Red Army soldiers died there too.
The city is sprinkled with monuments, plaques and mementos from the war (a
tank turret here, a German airplane there). Residents have tales of heroism
at the ready, tales taught from 1st grade forward.
Indeed, Russian perseverance in holding Stalingrad is awe-inspiring.
An initial force of as few as 40,000 soldiers, their backs against the Volga
River, held off Germany's vaunted 6th Army, a well-equipped and experienced
fighting force of at least 250,000 (including perhaps 50,000 conscripted or
volunteer Soviet citizens, Romanians and Italians fighting on the German
The Stalingrad defenders gave the Red Army a chance to bring in
reinforcements and build up a million-man force that would eventually
surround the Germans and force the 6th Army to surrender.
When the Germans gave up in early February 1943, only about 90,000 soldiers
remained to be taken prisoner. Few would make it back to Germany alive.
In his acclaimed book "Stalingrad," British historian Antony Beevor recounts
in vivid detail the horrors of the battle.
Beevor tells of wounded soldiers freezing to death on their stretchers and
how clumps of lice would desert a corpse en masse in search of a warm body.
He describes fighting of "savage intimacy" between soldiers so covered with
dust and grime it was hard to tell one uniform from another.
Beevor also details some of the more unsettling aspects of the Soviet victory
at Stalingrad. These are things the Volgograd residents do not bring up.
In a city where water became more precious than food, German soldiers would
bribe Russian orphans to run down to the Volga and fill up German canteens.
When Russian commanders found out, they had their snipers shoot the children
Stalin refused to allow thousands of citizens to be evacuated, assuming it
would make his troops fight harder in defense of the city. At least 13,500
Russian soldiers were executed, many summarily, most for malingering or
trying to desert.
"That was done correctly," Anokhin said, suggesting that it was "only about
3,000" Russian soldiers who had been shot by the NKVD (the precursor to KGB).
"How do you keep everyone fighting if one guy is not committed?"
The wind whips across the top of Mamayev Kurgan, a Tartar burial ground near
the bank of the Volga. Some of the fiercest fighting took place for control
of the hill, one reason that Mother Russia in all her towering, concrete
glory was built atop it.
"It was 33 degrees below zero, and with this wind!" Anokhin said. "Soldiers'
hands froze into claws from gripping their rifles."
A consultant to the city's cultural committee, Anokhin is also the local
leader of the National Bolshevik Party. Their hero is Lavrenty Beria, who was
Stalin's right hand and ran the NKVD during the war.
The National Bolshevik Party is one of many nationalistic outfits that have
grown up in Russia over the past decade. It is small, with only about 8,500
members in a nation of 145 million people.
Anokhin's Volgograd chapter has fewer than 90 full members (the city's
population tops 1 million). But he has started a youth group for the National
Bolshevik Party, with fun and games and inculcation on tap.
Pavel, 10, said he joined the club because of his father. But he found he
liked studying about Beria.
"I learned that Beria was a helper to Stalin," Pavel said, sitting on a bench
outside his apartment building, his striped pants worn and grass-stained at
the knees. "I learned he stole a land mine from the Nazis."
"The atom bomb, you mean," Anokhin interjected helpfully. "And from whom did
he [Beria] steal the atom bomb?"
"From Hitler," Pavel said.
"From America," Anokhin corrected.
"Yeah, from America," Pavel said, and smiled.
Pavel said he does not talk too much about the National Bolshevik Party with
his friends. They might not understand the party's views that Russians should
buy only Russian products and that American goods are like tools of
"My friends like to drink Coca-Cola and eat ChupaChups," Pavel said,
referring to a Spanish brand of lollipop popular in Russia.
In Beria, Anokhin sees a model for the kind of leader Russia needs.
"The Chechen problem should have been resolved within two weeks," Anokhin
said, speaking of separatist rebels in the Caucasus republic. "Beria resolved
the Chechen problem in two days."
During World War II, Stalin accused the Chechens of helping the Nazis. The
NKVD then went into Chechnya, killed hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of
civilians and then deported the others to Kazakstan. They were not allowed to
return to their homes until after Stalin's death in 1953.
"Radical and tough measures are needed," Anokhin said. "They were needed
during the war. They are needed now."
Date: Mon, 08 May 2000
From: Lionel Beehner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Review of eXile Roundtable at CSIS
The eXile Takes On Washington: A Review of CSIS' Roundtable Discussion with
the Editors of the eXile
By Lionel Beehner, Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)
2000 P Street, NW #400
Washington, DC 20036
(t) (202) 466-7105, (f) (202) 466-7140, email: email@example.com
At first glance, Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames look like your average vain,
college jock, replete with tight jeans, Gap shirts, and five-o'clock
shadows. For someone who has read their biweekly expat newspaper in Moscow,
the eXile, it is striking how non-serious and unthreatening the two
founding editors appear to be in person. They look, well, like normal guys.
Yet people take them serious, their writing is threatening to many, and the
eXile is anything but normal. The controversial newspaper combines lowbrow,
wacky stunts with intelligent, in-depth, albeit slightly gonzo journalism
that goes out of its way to criticize Moscow's expat community and the
Western press' feckless coverage of Russian news.
Last Wednesday, Taibbi and Ames participated in a roundtable discussion
entitled "The Expatriate's Russia" at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) about media freedoms and expat life in Russia.
After introducing the two panelists, moderator Keith Bush warned the
audience that the following presentation may be offensive to some. It was
not. What was supposed to be a heated contest, mano a mano, between two,
scrappy expat journalists on one side, and Washington's Russian policy
elite on the other, turned into a civilized discussion with little
disagreement. While the discussion was definitely less dull than most in
Washington, Ames and Taibbi were hardly provocative or confrontational.
Plus, despite being on the list of participants, eXile nemesis Michael
McFaul was nowhere to be found.
The eXile editors gave brief, prefatory remarks with no notes or cue cards,
often clumsily interrupting and finishing each other's sentences in Siamese
twin fashion. They began by reiterating their belief that Putin is a
"bloodless mediocrity" whose idea of a free press is warped and redolent of
Soviet times. Recalling the chilling Babitsky affair, Ames spoke at length
about various recent crackdowns on the freedom of the press in Moscow. Even
The Moscow Times, a rival English language newspaper that often provides
fodder for the eXile's practical jokes, was recently visited by the tax
police to pay its arrears and has since softened its editorials' criticism
of the Putin regime. Under Yeltsin, according to Ames and Taibbi, Russia
was more "anarchic," yet thus more free and liberal. Taibbi went on about
the lack of respectable journalism in Moscow, hammering Rick Paddock, in
particular, of the Los Angeles Times for his belief that in all of Russia,
there are no newsworthy stories. Also worth noting is Taibbi's contention
that only twenty percent of Western journalists in Russia actually speak
But mainly, whether reporting about the IMF bailout, the loans for shares
auction, or IKEA, the eXile editors have found that the Western press is
way off-target in its coverage of Russia. The New York Times has written at
length about the IMF bailout in Russia, but chose to ignore the Fimaco
scandal. Leon Aron has written a 750 page memoir on Yeltsin, but mentioned
Kremlin puppeteer Boris Berezovsky only four times. And what is most
incredulous, according to the eXile's editors, is that not one Western
newspaper accurately predicted the August, 1998 collapse of the ruble
(except of course, the eXile, as the self-congratulatory editors were quick
to point out).
Next discussed were the origins of the eXile and how the two editors ended
up together. Ames had previously worked in a murky Pakistani investment
firm, while Taibbi did a brief stint with the Moscow Times, and then played
basketball in Mongolia. Both were, as they put it, former "losers" in
America (although Ames and Taibbi had good enough grades to attend UC
Berkeley and NYU respectively). Ames claims he is a "selective right
winger" and Taibbi a "selective left winger." When Living There, an earlier
alternative weekly went defunct in February of 1997, Ames decided to start
the more brazen and bulkier eXile. Taibbi fortuitously got bacterial
meningitis, left Mongolia, and returned to Moscow looking for work. For
added clout and respectability, Ames, who had known Taibbi and admired his
earlier work from the Times, asked him to join the fledgling paper. Three
years and seventy issues later, the two have unarguably the most
insightful, daring English language newspaper in Moscow.
Ames and Taibbi, however, claim to be "humorists," not journalists. Indeed,
their newspaper is chock full of gags, cartoons, and
prank interviews. A recent issue of the eXile features an origami puzzle
that allows readers to "build their own evil president." At times, the
newspaper is Harvard Lampoon, The Onion, and MAD magazine all wrapped into
one. The eXile's prank interviews are purely hysterical. For example, on
one occasion the newspaper telephoned the Gorbachev Foundation to invite
the former Secretary General of the USSR to be an assistant coach for the
ailing New York Jets. They were called back, only to be upstaged by Pizza
Hut a few weeks later. There was also the time the eXile called Anatoly
Sobchak to nominate him for People magazine's Ten Sexiest Politicians. One
of their most infamous tricks was their April Fools Day gag when they wrote
and delivered throughout Moscow fake copies of the Moscow Times bearing the
headline: "Sex Scandal Rocks Kremlin," an edition that detailed erstwhile
prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko's late night visit to a gay bar, and found
its way to the desk of U.S. Ambassador James Collins.
The eXile is also severely irreverent to be sure. On the newspaper's Web
Site, one can download the rap tune, "Straight Outta Grozny," a ditty that
would make even Weird Al Yankovic proud. Most of the time, however, Ames
and Taibbi's humor takes the form of invective hurled at its enemies list.
They make no apologies for their biting style of journalism. "We should
criticize openly and harshly." The two editors have their usual targets,
including the aforementioned Rick Paddock, former MT editor Jeffrey
Weinstein, Kathy Lally of the Baltimore Sun, and most recently David Hoffman
of The Washington Post. Journalists covering Russia whose work that Ames
and Taibbi actually admire include David Filipov and Fred Weir, among a
select few others.
Ames and Taibbi's new book, aptly titled, Sex Drugs, and Libel in the New
Russia, details their disgust for their fellow expatriates, their
alienation from American society, their rampant drug binges, and their
treatment as "white gods" from Russian dyevushkas. The book is a good read,
particularly its coverage of the downfall of HIID's Moscow chief, Jonathan
Hay, and its blunt expos1 on the infamous Hungry Duck. There are slow
parts. Their celebration of excess drug use is a bit excessive and drawn
out. Moreover, the newspaper staff's internal bickerings and squabbles are
just downright absurd. To read about the eXile's tragi-comic rise to
success, one grasps just how bizzare and unsettling a place Moscow can be.
Yet at the heart of what the eXile stands for is its editors' dire wish
that Moscow not be transformed into a safe, cutesy city like Prague,
tainted with a burgeoning expatriate community and McDonald's on every
ulitsa corner. And their cause is a worthy one. But more importantly, Mark
Ames and Matt Taibbi's main achievement has been their influence on the
discourse of U.S.-Russian relations and their success at lowering the
acceptance level of shoddy Western news coverage in Russia by doing what
they do best: criticizing.
PRESIDENT VOWS THAT CHECHENS WILL FIGHT ON
Source: ANS radio, Baku, in Azeri 1330 gmt 08 May 00
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has said that as long as Russia continues
to wage war, the Chechens will continue to fight. In an interview with
Azerbaijani radio station ANS Maskhadov said that Russia was making an
outspoken challenge to the whole world by ignoring the resolutions of the
OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He denied that
secret negotiations were under way with the Russian leadership and said that
he would be grateful if Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Georgian
President Eduard Shevardnadze were able to mediate between Russia and
Chechnya. (ANS radio and TV broadcast excerpts from the interview with
Maskhadov throughout the day on 8th May. Three broadcasts contained excerpts
from the interview that are not included in this longer broadcast. Two of the
broadcasts were on ANS radio at 0700 and 0957 gmt and were headlined "Chechen
president says direct Russian presidential rule would change nothing" and
"Chechen leader: Putin to talk peace after realizing guerrilla war is
unwinnable" and the other report was broadcast on ANS TV [Baku, in Azeri 1100
gmt] and headlined "Chechen president warns Caucasus and world community to
beware of Russia".) The following is the text of the report by Azerbaijani
radio station ANS on 8th May
[Presenter] A new stage of hostilities has started in another republic
situated in the Caucasian region. We are talking about Chechnya. At the same
time, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told ANS CM in an exclusive interview
that the Chechens would patiently invite the Russian side to be reasonable
and observe peace. Maskhadov said that the Chechens would seriously comply
with the decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and
put up serious resistance to the Russians. Talking about the role of the
North Caucasus and Transcaucasus in tackling the conflict, Aslan Maskhadov
[Maskhadov, speaking throughout with superimposed Azeri translation] No-one
is having secret talks with them. Their representatives have met our
representatives several times. From the Chechen government - a delegation led
by Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov [Chechen politician and former president of the
Southern (Yuzhnaya) oil company] and their representatives. After the
statement by the Russian government that the negotiations had been frozen and
that there would be no negotiations, these relations were cut off. A new
stage of presidential rule and of hostilities will start.
[Presenter] We should note that when Aslan Maskhadov's spouse and daughter
recently went to Georgia, Turkey and from there to Malaysia where her son
lives, the Russian press wrote that the Chechen president's family had gone
abroad as an emissary with the aim of implementing a number of mediation
missions to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict. Maskhadov's answer
[Maskhadov] For us Caucasians it is not good to talk about the family and
children. For example, I am not interested in where the families of [Russian
Federation Council Chairman Yegor] Stroyev or [Russian President Vladimir]
Putin are. This shows once again that they cannot fight with dignity. What
does the family have to do with this? Can't they go wherever they want?
Should I account to anyone for that? The Russian mass media are putting out
reports about this every day. It is disgusting to see and hear all this.
[Presenter] Aslan Maskhadov also had difficulty saying when the hostilities
in Chechnya would end.
[Maskhadov] I think that the Russian leadership is making an outspoken
challenge to the whole world today. Imagine - the Istanbul summit [of the
OSCE] decided that the war should be ended, the troops withdrawn from the
North Caucasus and that the OSCE should have a compulsory presence in the
conflict zone; neither this nor, especially, any of the points of the PACE
resolution to end the war immediately, to sit down with the legitimate
president at the negotiating table and to surrender war criminals have been
fulfilled. For this reason we think that it is a challenge to the whole world
and in reply we say that we respect international law and the decisions of
influential organizations. But if Russia cannot find anything cleverer than
making war, this means that we shall keep on fighting.
[Presenter] As for the statements that hostilities in some places of Chechnya
have ended in victory for the Russians -
[Maskhadov] In the previous war Russian generals said that there were just a
dozen militants left there and that the war was over. On 6th August 1996 we
launched an attack and retook Groznyy. Today resistance is getting stiffer
day by day. As for propaganda, the Russians are conducting it themselves. The
shooting of residents, prison camps and other kinds of torture increase our
resistance even more. It is now spring and a strong large-scale guerrilla war
[Presenter] Aslan Maskhadov also said that he would not refuse the mediation
of [Azerbaijani President] Heydar Aliyev and [Georgian President] Eduard
Shevardnadze in settling the Chechen-Russian conflict.
[Maskhadov] I appealed to the leaders of the Caucasus, the North Caucasus and
the Transcaucasus republics on the first day of the war. I knew that this was
Moscow's next adventure. I invited them to issue appropriate statements and
prevent the war. However, I presume that they did not want to do this,
especially the leaders of the North Caucasus republics.
I have never refused the mediation of Heydar Aliyev and Eduard Shevardnadze.
I would be grateful to them if they played a concrete role in this respect.
My opinion is that the processes under way in the Caucasus are a continuation
of the processes that took place in Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We
played a specific role in them and suffered from them. We should not forget
one point - that the Caucasus peoples are brothers and neighbours. We should
live as friends and not allow others to poison us against one another. As for
Azerbaijan's role in settling this conflict, I really have great respect for
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and I regard him as the elder of the
whole Caucasus. I used to meet and consult him often. He shared his
experience with me. At the beginning of the war, both Aliyev and Shevardnadze
really issued an appeal. I really wanted them to participate directly in
brokering a solution to this war. However, I think that the Russian mass
media described us as if there were Wahhabis, terrorists and extremists
fighting here and this information curtain gave many the wrong idea. This is
not true and everyone should understand this. Here, the Chechen people are
fighting Russia. Russia does not want to clarify its relations with Chechnya.
For this reason, the war has been continuing for more than 400 years.
[Presenter] This was an exclusive interview given by Chechen President Aslan
Maskhadov to ANS CM.
May 8, 2000
[for personal use only]
Putin's Style Leaves Some Wondering
By Daniel Williams
MOSCOW, May 7-- Since taking over as Russia's acting president on New
Year's Eve, Vladimir Putin has become the quick-change artist of Russian
politics. One day, he's dressed in pilot's garb, flying a fighter jet over
Chechnya. The next, he's in a blue-striped sailor's shirt overnighting on a
submarine. Then he's in a judo outfit, tossing opponents around a mat, or in
goggles, skiing uncharted trails in the southern mountains. He's even ridden
Putin, who was inaugurated today after winning the presidential election
March 26, has introduced a macho style to the presidency--a newspaper here
called him a live action figure--and in the process has tried to project a
robust image of himself and his country.
His many guises have given rise to a new kind of Kremlinology in which
Russians try to assess the country's direction by analyzing Putin's stunts
and ceremonial utterances. The interest arose in part because despite more
than four months as acting president, Putin did not outline his plans for key
economic and social policies. "Symbolism has been central to Putin's rule so
far," said political commentator Andrei Piontkovsky. "But where's the beef?"
Almost everyone agrees that Putin conveys an admiration for the military. He
has steadfastly supported the army's assault on Chechnya, which has become a
kind of symbol for Putin--he has attributed everything wrong in Russia to its
failure to bring the renegade region under control.
His forays flying jets and on the high seas underscore his militarist bent.
In April, during his visit to the submarine in the North Sea Fleet, two
ballistic missiles were test-fired in his honor, according to Russian
reports. For next week's festivities commemorating the defeat of Germany in
World War II, Putin has ordered up a parade of troops in Red Square,
according to Russian reports, an unusual request in post-Soviet Russia.
"What he stresses is sympathy for the military," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a
Besides showing off his judo skills, Putin has occasionally displayed a
command of gangster-like language. Once, when explaining how he would end the
Chechen war, he said, "We will pursue the terrorists everywhere. Forgive me,
but if we find them in the toilet, we will rub them out in the outhouse."
For Russians, many of Putin's performances have been nothing new. Czars
frequently visited battleships, and Communist Party general secretaries
habitually inspected farms and factories, often wearing worker cloaks or
white laboratory smocks on their visits. But what is striking is the contrast
with Boris Yeltsin, his immediate predecessor.
Yeltsin was physically feeble during much of his last four years in office,
so physical shows of strength were out of the question. (Although, in a
memorable effort to show himself fit during the 1996 elections, he danced
with go-go girls.) Moreover, Yeltsin was not a military cheerleader--he
reduced its size and dismantled much of its industrial infrastructure.
The contrast goes deeper. Yeltsin, in his philosophical pronouncements,
promoted democracy, however imperfectly he practiced it. He also campaigned
for tolerance within Russia's ethnically mixed society.
Putin has had trouble blending his tough-guy image with democratic rhetoric.
In calling for crackdowns on crime and disorder in Russia, he said the
country would be ruled under a "dictatorship of law." Among liberals, at
least, the words were alarming.
"Some feel that it is more and more probable that Putin's 'dictatorship of
law' in Russia will in effect simply be a dictatorship, a secret police state
in which the whim of Putin and his administration will be law," said Pavel
Felgenhauer, a defense analyst and columnist for the Moscow Times.
Last week, during a commemoration of a World War II tank battle at
Prokhorova, Putin proclaimed the victory over Nazism a triumph of "Slavic
peoples," evidently forgetting that the Red Army included numerous Soviet
nationalities, including Uzbeks, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Jews and
others. Columnist Eugenia Albats saw in Putin's words a return to Stalin's
post-war exhortation of Slavic superiority in a country that remains
multi-ethnic. "The idea of ethnic supremacy is self-destructive," she warned.
At the inauguration, Moscow prognosticators were already looking for signs of
the real Putin. He took the oath in the 19th-century Kremlin Palace, rather
than the Soviet-era Hall of Congresses, where Yeltsin was inaugurated--an
indication that he views himself heir of the czarist throne, some observers
This week, the daily newspaper Kommersant intimated that the choice was not
happenstance. It published excerpts from what it said was an internal Kremlin
working paper suggesting that Putin will rule Russia with a centralized staff
in the Kremlin and that his prime minister and cabinet will be marginalized
so that he can exercise "real control over the political processes" in Russia.
Russian Popular Support for Putin Eyed
April 28, 2000
[translation for personal use only]
"Letter" from Mariya Malyukova: "The Putina Is a Good Time" --
passages within slantlines published in boldface
Stavropol Kray -- Our esteemed president -- Boris
Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] -- presented us with our best New Year's gift.
On 31 December, quite unexpectedly to everyone, he abdicated from the
"throne." He appointed Vladimir Putin his successor. The country came
to a standstill. The first reaction was one of shock. Then opinions
on this became divided: The powers that be (at least, in Stavropol
Kray, in the "red belt") were enraged.
In the end, Yeltsin poisoned both their celebration of the new
century and their life in general. In all recent years their New Year's
festivities had begun 25 December (Catholic Christmas) and ended 19
January ([Orthodox] Epiphany). They had marked them with pomp and on a
grand scale -- in restaurants, offices, saunas. They had been preparing
to greet the end of the century in a particularly big way. But then
such an extraordinary event! They started running around like
cockroaches. In administration buildings conferences, sessions, and
telephone conversations continued late into the night and in some cases
until morning. As in Stalin's times. Everyone's mood had been
thoroughly poisoned. Big-time and small-time thieves started having
palpitations. They started hurriedly getting rid of property,
transferring enterprises to straw men, and selling houses and cars. I
know one official who on New Year's Eve sold for 300,000 rubles [R] (if
they let him have it in cash right away) a house in which he had sunk
R1.5 million. He was afraid that it would be confiscated the next day.
They did not sleep that night: They prepared overnight bags, dried
bread to make rusks, and expected arrests. On 1 January, sober as
judges, they sat in their offices, sorted through documents, and cleared
out safes. The country resembled an anthill that had been stirred up.
Everyone was running around, in a hurry, carrying something off. On 2
January rayon and kray leaders, whom no one had ever clapped eyes on
previously, suddenly appeared on kolkhozes and at enterprises. They
reported on the work that had been done, tried to impress, and promised
/The people noticed everything and chuckled./ This was the best
agitation for Putin: He only had to come on the scene, and people at
once started to take action! I believe that the people elected him
their president right then, and merely confirmed this in March. Putin
was a dark horse where officials were concerned. He had not been
premier for long, but it could already be seen that he was "a bird of a
different feather from them." He recognized no "concepts" -- neither
officials' nor thieves' "concepts." He was clever and correct. But
who needed his correctness? The free-for-all in the country suited the
officials perfectly well. "It is good to fish in troubled waters."
Under a feeble president no one called anyone to account for anything.
If anyone was punished, it was for being on the "wrong" side, and if
anyone was pardoned, it was for being on the "right" side. They did
everything they wanted to with impunity. They made off with whatever
they wanted. But now it could be seen that this one would call them to
The dolce vita ended when the former leader of the Federal Security
Service was appointed acting president. People started scratching their
heads. They became pensive. What would happen now?
The psychosis lasted about a month. The expected arrests did not
happen. No one was removed or jailed. They gradually calmed down.
They reasoned as follows: "He is not the man he used to be. We will
break him. We will pull the wool over his eyes. We will buy him in
the end. We have gotten the better of others."
Then they also scheduled the presidential election. Hopefully he
would not be elected. It was a pity there was not very much time:
They would not have time either to spoil things for the acting president
or to gather compromising material.
Hysterical people appeared: "Putin comes from Ras/putin/. He is
the very image of Pinochet. A dictator. He will bend everyone to his
/The people listened./
And Putin started bending people to his will. Terrorists and
bandits from Chechnya. He squeezed them in a vise. He cornered them
like wolves. The acting president said in a public statement: "We
will waste them everywhere, even in the john." The hysterical people
exulted: "Have you heard? He will waste them all!"
He did waste them. The gunmen. And how! They could find no
hiding place. They dug themselves into the ground, ran around like
hares, and hid in all crevices.
/The people observed./
Attempts were made to pressure Putin -- by the United Nations, the
IMF, the EU, left-wing campaigners for human rights.... He answered
them all distinctly and comprehensibly: "This is an internal matter for
Russia. We ourselves will get to the bottom of it and instill
/The people hummed approvingly into their beard./
The election race began. The presidential candidates drove to the
gypsies, sang and danced, did plastic surgery, and jumped about in
discos. Just like one of the gang! Putin boarded a military aircraft
and flew to Chechnya. He presented awards to soldiers and thanked them
/The people became pensive./
The parties and their nominees flung mud at each other and bent over
backward to try to make an impression: They criticized their opponents'
programs and participated in dubious shows. Putin was working at the
The people had had the wool pulled over their eyes for many years.
In the simplicity of their soul they believed, listened, and tried to
understand. Maybe the people constitute a herd, but even a herd follows
the leader who is a little more strong and intelligent. The ordinary
people should not be underestimated. We are sick of the overt lies of
all these rogues going back many years. Of their promises of an earthly
paradise which will come about after they are elected. Of their
frightening us with the end of the world if not elected. Putin promised
nothing. He frightened no one. And he did it!
/On election day the people voted for him./
Even in such traditionally "red" districts as Stavropol and Krasnodar
Krays 70 percent of the population cast their votes for him. For some
this was like a bolt from the blue.
Zyuganov did what he could, arguing that this could not be, because
it can never be.
Enough, old boy! /The people have had enough of your promises./
No one believes you anymore.
They changed tactic. They started lamenting and wailing on all
levels: "Putin is Yeltsin's henchman. He will implement a policy of
completely ruining the country."
I have my own opinion about this. I do not like Yeltsin. Like
many people, I have a score to settle with him. He is to blame for a
very great deal. I voted for him wholeheartedly in the previous
election. Moreover, I was on the staff to support his candidacy. I
tried to convince people that he was our salvation and our future.
He deceived me. And I deceived people!
Maybe he did not want it, but he did deceive. It was unpardonable
arrogance to become president in such a state of health. A person
cannot work normally even if he has toothache or if a boil has appeared
on his private parts. But this was his heart! Did he not know about
this? Then he should have gone at once and given way to a young,
healthy man. Who would have censured him? From time immemorial people
in Russia have pitied the sick. But he clung to the black attache case.
Although, there is an explanation for this too. The trouble with
Russia and its leaders is that, while someone is in power, people extol
him, reward him, and sing his praises. As soon as he loses power, they
start dragging him in the mire. I will not speak about the distant past
but will recall the recent past. Brezhnev, Chernenko, Gorbachev. They
were all hissed, spat upon, and censured. By whom?! By those who had
fawned upon them and extolled them excessively.
Why do I respect Americans? They are able to make any complaints
against a president who is alive and kicking -- ranging from drips on his
lover's dress to the war in Vietnam. They do not judge the deceased and
those who simply retired. They speak of them with respect. But people
in our country only hit people when they are down. It is the job of
carrion crows to settle scores with the dead and defeated and to pull
them to pieces -- this is unworthy of people. If you are so strong, hit
your opponent while he is alive and strong. But to hold down a drowning
So it turns out that we ourselves make our rulers cling to office
until their final breath. They fear us as people who deny our roots.
If Putin had given the sick Yeltsin up to be torn to pieces, he
evidently would have picked up still more votes. If he had not
interceded for him, thousands of people wishing to crucify him would have
applauded. Putin did not want to betray his teacher. He did not
forget thanks to whom he ascended to the summit of power. Would it
really have been better if he had been the first to throw stones at
Yeltsin's back? I personally would never follow such a person. Putin
is a decent man. Those who try to smear Yeltsin in the pages of history
and to throw stones at his back -- where have they been all these years?
From which cup have they supped? Was it not their devotion that
supported him?! Putin is not afraid to intercede for the weak. Here,
too, he has risen to the occasion.
/The people have recognized this!/
Now about his surname, which gives many people sleepless nights.
I do not have a defining dictionary to hand, but I know the meaning
of the word "putina." It is the season when frozen rivers and seas are
released from the grip of ice, and navigation begins. Fuel, food, and
medical supplies are conveyed by water, timber is floated down, and fish
are caught. That is, it is a very good time. Whoever works well
during the putina will take a good rest during the off-season. Is this
so, or is it not? Even if I have overdone the etymology, for me, all
the same, work begins with the coming of Putin. During this time I
intend to work so as to provide for a worthy old age. I pin great hopes
on this season. Provided that these "apples of discord" (Yabloko) and
those who are against the Russian Federation do not hinder us.
People, let us give Russia a laugh, and Tito too (I believe there was
such a dictator). They have really gotten to us with their
tittle-tattle. And they are not that inoffensive. To create the
semblance of work, they nip, bite, and peck at all who work to strengthen
the state. This distracts them from the job and throws them off
balance. The guy does not know whether he is to extract the country
from the crisis into which they have plunged it or to beat off these
flocks. They have nothing better to do: They find fault with every
word, surname, and lineage -- that person with the rasping voice, that
radio bimbo, is particularly mocking -- and they gossip like old women
outside a peasant hut. At the same time they get big money for this.
People toil, while they behave like buffoons: Now they fight for
the whole world to see, now they make faces, now they unrestrainedly
lavish praise upon themselves like fairground barkers.
/The people see all this and understand it./ The time will soon
come when his patience may be exhausted. What is he, the dear chap, to
do then -- "waste" chatterboxes?
We have all gotten an opportunity to get up off our knees, to proudly
straighten our shoulders, and to hold our head high. To remember that
we are a worthy nation. Only we must not waste time. Both young and
old go out to work during the putina. Maybe we should all now unite for
a while and forget quarrels and grudges? This has been the way in Rus
from the earliest times: People have united in the face of danger.
And then we might like it and will not want to be disunited. I am no
longer a naive girl, and I realize that I will hardly be heard by those
who introduce disorder into people's sentiments. They play big-time.
The stakes are too high. They will not hear me, stop, or back down. I
so want to shout:
"People, maybe I am mistaken, for this has happened to me before.
But even if Putin manages to do nothing good for Russia, we must be
grateful to him for the single fact that he has helped us and our Army to
believe in ourselves, in the government, and in justice. He has allowed
no harm to come to us all and has supported us in both word and deed."
The Army has realized this and responded by finishing off the evil
which is called the Chechen free-for-all. For how many years did this
free-for-all continue there? They acted according to the principle:
"One step forward, two steps back."
They "achieved" the result that the people stopped believing in the
Army and despised it. Soldiers went into a rage of impotence. At that
time the extremists were playing "Chechen roulette" with us all. Day
after day millions of people closed their eyes and prayed to God: "Let
me be lucky: Let them not blow up my home, let my son (grandson,
husband, brother, nephew) not die, let them not burst into our city
(hamlet, village, settlement), and let them not take my children
(parents, sisters, relatives) hostage." While praying for themselves
and their own, they failed to realize that, whereas they had been lucky
today, they might not be lucky tomorrow. Today it is someone else,
tomorrow it may be you.
Putin is the only one of the rulers to have understood the rules for
playing "Chechen roulette." If you want to survive, do not close your
eyes and do not pray for salvation. Take out your pistol and discharge
a cartridge clip at the croupier. Then you will both stay alive and
save others. This is what he did. This is precisely why I voted for
him. He is the guy whom you can and must follow on reconnaissance and
onto the barricades....
It probably is not a woman's job to assess men's games. Pardon me.
Although, why is it not a woman's job? After all, it is to the
motherland that we give our blessing to protect our children.
Putin Calls on Authorities to Help Poor.
KURSK, western Russia, May 8 (Itar-Tass) - Russian President Vladimir Putin
said on Monday that the authorities should help the needy.
Efforts should be "focused on helping the poor in the first place, those who
need assistance from the state," Putin told a news conference during his
first trip as president to the western city of Kursk.
Asked about his inauguration, which took place on Sunday, he said "it was
composed and solemn at the same time."
"That was a very solemn moment, summing up the results of a certain amount of
work. The feeling of responsibility grows after such events," he said.
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