Center for Defense Information
Research Topics
CDI Library
What's New
CDI Library > Johnson's Russia List

Johnson's Russia List


May 10, 2000    
This Date's Issues: 4291 4292 

Johnson's Russia List
10 May 2000

[Note from David Johnson:
For much more material from and related to the PBS Frontline
television program "Return of the Czar" (broadcast on May 9, 2000)
go to
1. Synopsis of the program.
2. Analyses of Yeltsin's Achievements, Failures and Place in 
History. Excerpts from Frontline's Interviews.
3. Whither Russia? Excerpts from Frontline's Interviews.
4. Excerpt from Frontline's interview with Lilia Shevtsova.

DJ: This is a superb program. The PBS web site has the complete
text of interviews with all participants as well as extensive
other materials. The transcript of the actual program will
be available in about a week. VHS tapes can be purchased. Watching
the program and reading the transcripts is particularly desirable
for those Russia-watchers who are now getting ready to push Round
Two of "reform" in Russia. Attendance at a conference on Russia in 
New York last week has persuaded me that there is an eagerness
to get back the Western project of reforming Russia, with the useful
aid of the authoritarian Putin. Few lessons have been learned from
the past ten years.] 


Return of the Czar
May 9, 2000

As Russia's new president Vladimir Putin takes the helm of a nation teetering 
on the edge of collapse after a decade of chaos, poverty amd corruption, 
FRONTLINE's "Return of the Czar" explores the role played by Boris Yeltsin -- 
and the unwavering U.S. support he enjoyed -- in the failure of Russia's 
attempts at political and economic transformation during the 1990s.
"When we first visited Moscow more than a decade ago, Russians at the 
forefront of change were trying their best to make what they called 
'American-style democracy' work," says producer Sherry Jones. "Today, the 
Russia Vladimir Putin inherits is increasingly militarized and often 
anti-American in rhetoric and outlook."

While the West applauded former president Boris Yeltsin's market reforms 
during the 1990s, FRONTLINE interviews Russian observers and former US 
policymakers who contend these reforms came at a terrible price: they took 
precedence over building democratic institutions and processes, impoverished 
millions of Russians, and encouraged massive corruption. 

In addition to tracking the increasing divisiveness of U.S.-backed reform 
efforts during the 1990s--from Yeltsin's adoption of a Western scheme to 
shock the economy into new behavior, to the looting of state assets under the 
fast-track privatization program, to the scandalous "Loans for Shares" 
auctions which enriched a handful of Kremlin-connected bankers --"Return of 
the Czar" talks to critics of U.S. policy who say America erred in placing 
all of its democratic eggs in Boris Yeltsin's basket. Time and again, when 
faced with choosing between democratic reform and Yeltsin, the U.S. sided 
with Yeltsin.

"The message was very clear," according to Russian political analyst Yevgenia 
Albats. "As long as you continue the path of market reforms, as long as you 
allow us not to worry about your nukes, do whatever you want." 

According to Donald Jensen, former second secretary at the U.S. Embassy, 
"open warfare" broke out among embassy staff over the direction of U.S. 
policy; cables to Washington called attention to the increasing corruption, 
Russia's new oligarchs and the political consequences of Washington's 
economic prescriptions.

In the concluding chapters of "Return of the Czar," Russians and Russia 
analysts assess Yeltsin's leadership and legacy, the impact of the Chechen 
war, Russia's disillusionment with the West, and the uncertainties and fears 
about the new Putin era. 

The staunchest defenders of democracy, human rights and a free press in 
Russia are worried what the Putin presidency will bring. Sergei Kovalev, who 
was Yeltsin's commissioner of human rights until he resigned over the war in 
Chechnya, says he is a "dark pessimist" when he envisions what the next 
several years will bring for his country. "We may look back on the year 2000 
as the twilight of Russian democracy." 


Analyses of Yeltsin's Achievements, Failures and Place in History
Excerpts from Frontline's Interviews 

Strobe Tabott 
He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in 
both his government and journalism careers. 
The memory of President Yeltsin that I will carry with me all my life is of 
a proud, powerful man who not only was willing to undertake big fights, but 
was almost eager to do so, who threw himself into major struggles, having to 
do with the most fundamental issues about what was going to happen to his 
country. He was a man who led a hard life, in many ways. And he was very hard 
on himself, in lots of ways. And his career, including the way in which it 
gets played out publicly, contained plenty of reminders of some fairly basic 
human frailties.

But, proud and powerful are the two words that still come to my mind when I 
think about President Yeltsin. And he made a mockery, a total mockery, out of 
the confident pessimism of a lot of the commentators who wrote him off, on 
any of a number of occasions. He had resilience of an extraordinary kind.

...It's quite amazing, when you think about it, that a man who by all 
accounts and all public opinion polls, was one of the least popular figures 
in Russian political and public life towards the end of his Presidency, could 
pick out of relative obscurity, Vladimir Putin and say, not only is this guy 
my Prime Minister, but he's going to be the next President of Russia. ...

Moreover, he got to that position through the workings of the Constitutional 
process. It was an orderly and democratic conclusion of the transfer of the 
power that President Yeltsin had set in motion. 

And quite a number of the things that he did were intended to make sure that 
the communists did not come back to run that country. That's very important. 
Quite a number of the things that he did with Bill Clinton as the President 
of the United States have made this a safer world than it would be otherwise.

...I think that in many respects, the Russia that President Yeltsin passed 
onto his successor President Putin has come a very long way. It hasn't been 
an easy or straight road. And it's not going to be an easy or straight road 
into the future. But it's a very different Russia than the one that Boris 
Yeltsin grew up in, the one where he was a potentate of the Soviet Communist 
Party. And in many, though not all respects, it's a better place. 

In what ways is it a better place?

It's a better place among other things because it's a democracy. Now, it is 
not the most advanced democracy on the face of the earth, but the Russians 
have gotten into the habit of voting. They now choose their legislators, the 
people who make their laws. Unfortunately not always very quickly and not 
always the right law, but nonetheless, they go to the polls, in levels of 
participation, that is, voter turnout, that would be the envy of other 
countries, to elect the legislators. And they, of course, twice in the post 
Soviet period had a chance to elect their President.

It's a much more pluralistic society and political system. There are 
different voices, many of which are quite disagreeable, saying ugly things. 
But there are other voices that are championing values and ideals that we 
hold dear, and that we hope will prevail there over time. They have a free 
press. A whole universe of difference, in terms of the way the press operates 
from what it was back during Soviet times.

There is also not anything like the ideological compulsion to lock horns with 
the United States and with the West on every single issue, just on principle, 
which was the case, of course, when we were ideological rivals on a global 
basis. But I want to stress there are lots and lots of problems, reasons for 
concern, and reason for uncertainty over how it will turn out. 

Boris Fyodorov
He is a former Russian Finance Minister (1993-1994). 
In my opinion, Yeltsin never understood anything about the economy, aand he 
never understood what has to be changed. ... Mr. Yeltsin was just a political 
fighter. For him the predominant task was to get personal power. ...
Dealing with economy, he showed a total lack of understanding, and only when 
the problems were most acute...then at these times Yeltsin looked around and 
tried to see whether there are anybody who is coming with any recipes for 
dealing with the crisis, and that's how Mr. Gaidar appeared and that's why 
many other people, including myself, appeared in the government. Not because 
Yeltsin understand us or knew us or liked us. He never did that. But clearly, 
when in times of need, you really have to fight something, then it's not 
enough to have cronies, who probably steal a lot, but don't know what to do. 
You have to deal with other people.

And ....most of what happened was haphazard process, unorganized. And 
basically the market forces, this invisible hand, ultimately was trying to 
find its way through this rigmarole of Russian politics. But unfortunately it 
was never a man-made, planned process.

It's clear that these last 8-9 years changed the situation and the country 
dramatically. Even the so-called Red directors of enterprise no longer waits 
for the old planned system to come back. Nobody believes that tomorrow 
Communists will win. ...

It's clear that in these [past] eight years, hundreds of thousands, probably 
millions of people, bought their own flats and created their own houses. And 
a couple of million new companies were created in these years. And clearly 
people work there; they have something to lose. People sent their children to 
private schools. People bought their new cars. People now like to go to 
restaurants--obviously depending on their means, which restaurant. But it's 
clear that there are millions and millions of Russian citizens who probably 
will criticize the government while sitting in their kitchen at night and 
drinking a glass of champagne or something like that. But still, they have 
something to lose. It's clear that the millions have something to lose.

Most of the elite have something to lose. It's a cynical thing, but it's 
clear that a lot of even those corrupt officials understand perfectly well 
that in the Soviet Union they would have never been able to live the way they 
do now. And it's clear that they will have been punished much quicker than 
they are punished now. So everybody has a vested interest in preserving it.

And obviously, there are also millions of people, mostly pensioners, who 
would like dramatic change, but you cannot go into the same water twice. You 
cannot repeat history, and it's absolutely clear that there is not a single 
country in the world where the communist planned economy works. And that's 
why--it's like turning the time back. That's why I don't think we can go 
backwards. The question is: how fast we shall go forward and how quickly we 
can deal with the problems which the country faces today. 

Thomas Graham 
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1994-1997. 
What has Russia become in the last decade?

It has become a very weak country that in many ways resembles, I think, 
feudal Europe.

What we've seen is, I think, firstly, a major socioeconomic crisis. The 
economy has declined by half. Public health is in a shambles. Educational 
system is in shambles.

What we've also seen, is political power be both privatized and fragmented, 
and this is what I think gives it sort of the resemblance to feudal Europe. 
Sovereignty and ownership are combined in sort of parcels of this country 
across the country. And it's very difficult to recombine these elements in a 
way that leads to a sustained, but economic and political development over 

So that's what I would call it. .... we have returned to a kind of feudal 
Russia. But unlike the feudalism in Europe, it is not based on agriculture 
anymore. It's based on an industry. 

E. Wayne Merry 
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1990-1994. 
Well, Boris Yeltsin has many positive qualities. Understanding of modern 
economics is not one of them. I don't think anyone could reasonably be under 
the illusion that Yeltsin had much grasp of what many people in his team were 
doing. I don't think he had more than a fleeting comprehension of the 
mechanisms that were being discussed between his reform team and the West.
He had, I think, a very great faith in many of the younger people who had 
supported him during his battle with Gorbachev. I think he had a very deep 
perception that the Soviet economic system was not reformable and had to be 
junked and had to be replaced. I think he had very little comprehension of 
the extent to which some of the mechanisms being imported from the West were 
going to work in Russia.

In this regard, he was a man of his generation. I don't think any Russian 
from his political background in the Soviet Communist Party could be expected 
to comprehend the nature of the economic reforms that were being tried. But 
as the elected president, he ultimately, of course, was responsible.

I think the United States came to have a commitment to Boris Yeltsin, which 
was almost as much symbolic as substantive, because the people we were 
dealing with on economic reform were other people, many of whom, I think, did 
not tell Yeltsin very much about what was going on. They certainly never 
successfully explained to Yeltsin any of the realities of monetary policy, 
let alone some of the realities of the privatization programs and the other 
so-called reforms that led to such scandals.

But I think the United States became so committed to the person and the 
symbol of Boris Yeltsin that, even when we were confronted with the carnage 
of the war in Chechnya, it was very difficult for Washington to try to back 
away from it. 

Lilia Shevtsova 
The author of Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality, she is senior associate in 
the Carnegie Endowment's Russian and Eurasian Program, and a former deputy 
director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and Political 
Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 
At the time after the August 1991 putsch, and the time immediately 
thereafter, you've said Yeltsin had all the powers. Did Yeltsin understand 
what was needed at that moment?

I doubt that he could have understood the necessity to move to that model of 
a liberal democracy which had triumphed in Europe or in the United States of 
America. He was a person who had never been abroad. He was from the provinces 
- from Ekaterinburg. He was an older man, lacking in new experiences. He was 
firmly planted in the past. Thank God he realized the necessity to destroy 
Communism and the planned economy. It is now obvious that he couldn't have 
moved any further than that by himself. Someone could have moved him, because 
then, in 1991, when he unexpectedly formed a government of young people who 
were unknown liberals, he sheltered them with his authority. 

It seems that he risked his authority, he risked everything, because he 
wanted to see a Russia that was part of Europe, a peaceful Russia that was a 
partner to the United States. He had ideas that went further, not just 
economic reforms but a civilized society. 

However, by the summer of 1992, he had in effect betrayed these ideas because 
he stopped reforms. He extricated himself from Yeygor Gaidar, and from this 
moment forward his goal was not Russia, but his role above Russia. Yes, he 
carried out reforms now and then. He was walking slowly, carefully forward, 
but only with respect to economics and only as far as it helped him to be on 
top--to be a czar. That is, he sublimated reforms and the democracy to one 
goal--his own power, his omnipotent power. 

So this alien monarch was reelected in 1996. And then what happened?

The monarch is old and depressed. He was constantly falling into depression. 
At several times he was on the verge of suicide. He was a man who lost 
contact with reality. He stopped watching the news. He heard about the world 
through his family and closest advisors. He was beyond this world. He was no 
longer adequate for his role. He had already started forming his own mythical 
regime. Everything in the regime was mythical, a glass house. Everything 
about it was fantasy. It was political nonsense. This regime could not exist, 
but it existed. Why? The president was elected democratically, but ruled 
autocratically. Moreover, he wanted to prolong his rule through the 
appointment of his chosen successor. Just like it would work in a monarchy. 
He ruled indirectly because he did not have the strength to rule directly. He 
sat in the car, but someone else drove. The steering wheel was in other 
people's hands. It was in Korzhakov's, his daughter Tatiana's, Berezovskii's, 
his wife's, or even his guard's hands. 

When he was incapable, either sick or drunk, he led by delegating power -- 
and he had a lot of power, he was above the society, he was God, a typical 
Russian czarist tradition. Since he couldn't rule, he delegated power to his 
family, to the bodyguards, to the cook, to the doctors --- to his favorites. 
Then he started to change his favorites, then the cabinet. It was a very 
convenient way of ruling. 

He sat in the Kremlin, but more frequently in the rest home or the dacha, and 
from there he would pull the strings. It was a conveyor belt of sorts. It was 
almost like under Stalin, though Stalin controlled everything. Yeltsin did 
not control anything at this point. When people came to visit him at the 
Kremlin, he sat as his desk looking at blank paper. He sat there and did 
nothing. He would sit like this for hours. He knew he was in Russia, but 
nothing else. Nothing interested him. He went to Sweden, but thought he was 
in Finland. He reoriented the rockets, he talked other nonsense, the only 
thing he did remember -- he didn't know who he was, but he knew he was a 
leader. This was the only thing that he cared about. He changed from a 
political animal to a biologic one. 

Nonetheless, he did have some clear moments. He would start mumbling but then 
say realistic things. This meant that he cleared at times. In a sporadic 
fashion, in those moments he exhibited a real peasant wit and had an almost 
animalistic sense of power. He knew when you had to cast aside rivals. As 
soon as someone felt himself equal, he was immediately destroyed. This 
inadequate Yeltsin, with an almost artificial heart, who couldn't think with 
any distinctions, he knew there was power and he was clinging to it like an 

He had many positive traits. He really wanted to change things, in the 
beginning he was an exterminator. And to end it all in such a way, sick, with 
a 1% popularity rating, with people who were just waiting to seize his power 
and to discard him. He wasn't a regular guy or an ordinary personality. He 
couldn't live up to expectations. He left the country in the very depth of 

As he declined, he took the country with him.

Yes. It is a very tragic thing to say, but we have to dig ourselves out of 
the hole he found himself in. However, I think things are not this simple. I 
view him in an impressionist way. I appreciate that he had wishes, motives, 
good reasons to do things. I think in 1991 he took a risk and showed courage. 
He made a big change in this country. There was something else. Up to the 
end, he was criticized harshly. Even the most supportive newspapers wrote 
horrible things about him. He should have, even if he never read these 
papers, known of these criticisms. 

But, he never closed newspapers. He never punished a journalist, He never 
allowed himself to be vindictive. He had many favorites, and he changed them 
as gloves. But he was never vindictive. This is amazing, that he was never 

He led like a Czar, but he did not turn the country into a dictatorship. He 
started the war in Chechnya, but when he saw he had made a mistake he tried 
to get out of it. He was looking for a compromise. He didn't want bloodshed. 
I'm sure he wanted to sign a peace agreement. I think he probably didn't have 
what it took to be a real autocrat. 

He left Russia humiliated, but with a lot of freedoms that still exist. 

Pavel Voschanov 
He was Boris Yeltsin's press secretary from 1991-1993 and was a journalist 
with Komsomolskaya Pravda. 
...One may charge Yeltsin with many wrongdoings - corruption, economic 
chaos, a huge bureaucracy - all this is true. But Yeltsin's main crime lies 
in the fact that he has discredited the very idea of a democratic society. 
This is the biggest loss of the last 10 years. It is hardly possible to 
restore it over the next 5 or 10 years. It'll take a long time. We are doomed 
to live in a very strange political system for a number of years. We are 
going to live under a "party-less" authoritarianism, with some elements of 
He was in love with himself. He would see everything through the lens of his 
ego. That's how - through this lens - he formed his circles. ... Back in 
1985, we were trying to change the situation, where everything in our society 
was controlled and determined by the "special service" - the KGB. We came 
full circle to the same situation when KGB people determine and control 
everything in Russian society, control everything that people say and 
do.What's different is the purpose of this control. If in the past the goal 
was to defend the ideology, now the goal is different - to protect private 
property. But the essence is the same - a total control over society by the 

...In the Kremlin there was one way to get rid of an undesirable person. It 
worked 100% of the time. All one had to do was to say a few times to Yeltsin: 
"Boris Nikolayevich, you hired so-and-so. You know, everyone says only good 
things about him, everyone has a high opinion of him. Last time so-and-so 
traveled around Russia, he was welcomed enthusiastically by people. Many say 
- look, what a great successor to Boris Nikolayevich!" Two or three comments 
like this were enough for this person to be gone from the Kremlin for good. 
Many used this method and Yeltin's weakness - his ego. The last words I heard 
from Yeltsin were: "Go and do what the tsar ordered." Tsar! 

...For Yeltsin, the most important thing was to become a member of the club, 
to make sure that the West liked him more than they liked Gorbachev. Yeltsin 
genuinely thought that after that, all of Russia's problems would be solved, 
gold rain would pour down on us, the borders would open and foreign goods 
would start pouring in and our goods would be exported to the West - all 
because Yeltsin was on friendly terms with the other leaders, because he had 
been meeting with them without ties, without tuxedoes, even shirts. That's 
Yeltsin's primitive thinking and his primitive perception of the world's 
complex realities. 

Jonas Bernstein
He is a senior analyst for the Jamestown Foundation and writes from Moscow on 
Russian domestic affairs. He was a writer with Voice of America and has 
worked as a business columnist with The Moscow Times, and as Moscow 
representative and program officer for Freedom House. 
What has Russia become in these ten years?

It's a peculiar thing. I think there's several ways of looking at it. On one 
level, it's become something very much resembling a Third World 
quasi-authoritarian corrupt regime, sort of a regime that resembles Latin 
American regimes of old. Number two, it's a highly criminalized system. In 
other words, the power of organized crime, which sort of merges into the 
regional bosses, and governments, and local governments, this mish-mash of 
the security services and organized crime is a salient feature of the new 

On the other hand, I think that people underestimate the degree to which 
there's great continuity between this system and the old system. One thing 
that's often overlooked is that the Yeltsin Kremlin basically nationalized 
billions of dollars worth of property owned by the Soviet Communist Party. It 
held on to it. It made the Kremlin administration one of the biggest property 
holders in the country--billions of dollars worth of property--and uses this 
property to provide the 12,500 top officials of the Russian state with basics 
like apartments and transportation and rest homes, and vacation resorts. This 
is exactly the way the Soviet Communist Party nomenklatura operated. Just 
that aspect of it always astounded me. Why doesn't anybody bring this up? 
Shouldn't this [have] been a subject of demarche by Washington or Western 
governments? But it was overlooked. 

What about ordinary people?

I think that for a lot of ordinary people, the situation either hasn't 
changed or it's gotten worse. I think there are pockets where it's probably 
gotten better. At least before the 1998 crash, [they] shuttle-traded because 
the borders were open, people could travel abroad, buy cheap textiles in 
Turkey or in the United Arab Emirates, order goods there, bring 'em back, 
sell it. So there was a lot of moonlighting going on. There was a huge 
underground economy and so a lot of people had more than they would appear to 
have on the surface. Of course a lot of people were decimated by what 
happened, by inflation, first of all, in the early '90s, and then the crash 
in August 1998 reduced people's standards of living by 30 percent or more in 
one fell swoop.

However you do the math, at the end, I think it's a really sort of pathetic 
and sad result, that even if it's slightly improved over the Soviet Union, 
that it only came this far in ten years. And I would add that in certain ways 
it's already moving backward. In other words, I would say that the area of 
press freedom is worse than it was during the late Gorbachev period now, and 
the trend line appears to be moving in an even worse direction. So it's a 
mixed picture, at best. 


Whither Russia?
Excerpts from Frontline's Interviews 

Thomas Graham
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1994-1997. 
What do your friends and your contacts in Russia think about what is 
happening now--what is going to happen in the next few months?

I think there is a lot of anxiety. I think many Russians are finally coming 
to grips with the fact that their country has declined drastically over the 
past decade.

I mean, look at Putin's internet message at the end of last year, which I 
think laid that out in very great detail. But I think, one, Russians are 
willing to accept that now. Whereas, they wouldn't have accepted it, say, 3 
or 4 years ago--at least the radical reform elements. Those who were pro 
reform would not have accepted it. So they understand that. They understand 
that unless they begin to rebuild their country that they are not going to be 
able to enjoy the status in world affairs that they think is due Russia.

Now, the real question, I think, is to what extent Russian political elites 
are prepared to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to begin to 
rebuild that country and how they would see those sacrifices. The fact of the 
matter is that the Russian political elites over the past decade have 
enriched themselves by preying on a weak state. They really don't have an 
interest in a strong state, for all the rhetoric about the need for a strong 

Are they going to change at this point? I think that is an open question. I 
think they have at this point a lot of anxieties about Putin, in part because 
to a certain extent they made him a political leader, but they don't know 
whether they can control him and they don't know what this type of figure, 
who is possibly uncontrolled, means for this system that has developed. Will 
he be able to find sources of support--particularly in the institutions of 
coercion--that will allow him to discipline this elite, and, in fact, build 
the strong state that this elite says they want, but at their expense? 

Yevgenia Albats
She is an independent journalist and the author of KGB: State Within a State. 
A lot of the people I'm talking to feel that an era is over. It's not that 
the Yeltsin era is over, but this bigger moment in history is over, at least 
for the time being. Do you think that's true?

I think that definitely this stage of chaotic democracy is over, this 
post-Soviet epoch is over. I do think that we're getting into the stage of 
the authoritarian state. I hope that it's not going to be as unhuman as the 
Soviet Union was. But I don't expect that Russia will keep going on the road 
of democracy from now on.

Probably it will take another generation, probably the generation of my 
daughter or her kids, to take another stand for creating some civilized and 
democratic society in Russia. From that perspective, yes, I do think that the 
great epoch of great hopes and great illusions is over. 

Unfortunately, probably, I'm not going to live long enough to see Russia as a 
truly democratic state. But after all, back 15 years ago I never expected to 
have even a possibility to travel and study abroad, to become an independent 
journalist and independent political analyst.

>From that perspective, I think I got a gift I never expected to get. And the 
fact that I probably dreamed to have more for my country and it's not going 
to happen in my life--okay, you know, there are a lot of false expectations, 
and this probably is not going to happen. I'm still grateful that I lived 
long enough to see the end of the Soviet Empire. It's not a bad outcome for 
one's personal life. 

When you say you think that things will be authoritarian, that it's becoming 
that way and will be for a while, what's that going to look like in Russia in 
2001, 2002?

In fact, there are a lot of examples in Latin America. Look at Mexico, 
basically a one-party system, semi-democratic elections. Or one even can say 
that it's a bit fake elections--big state, huge corruption. This is one 
plausible outcome.

I think the best bet is to have something like Chile under Pinochet--where 
you have a strong leader who didn't think twice to kill his opponents, but 
who did his best in order to open the country and to promote economic reforms 
that made Chile now one of the fastest growing nations in the Latin America. 
And then there are examples like Paraguay and Columbia...I mean the 
authoritarian regime trapped into crimes, trapped into organized crimes. No 
real contested elections--democracy that comes every four years just to make 
the next, or the same, president look legitimate. And huge gap between those 
who are rich and those who are poor. 

E. Wayne Merry 
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1990-1994. 
What has Russia become?

I think Russia has become in many ways, something of a replica of what it was 
before the Soviet era. There's a great deal about Russia in the year 2000 
that is very similar to the Russia of the year 1900--some of the same basic 
questions. What are the appropriate relationships between executive power and 
legislative and legal power? What is the relative balance between central 
power and regional and local power? How do you deal with the problem of the 
land, of agriculture and the peasantry? What is the relative role of domestic 
capital versus foreign capital? How much does Russia want to be like the 
West? How much does it want to maintain an adherence to its own cultural 
roots and traditions? How is Russia different from the West? How is Russia to 
be integrated with the West?

Those questions existed in Russia long before the Bolshevik Revolution and I 
think, in my own view, most of the 20th century for Russia has been almost 
lost time; they went down this terribly wrong road during the Soviet period, 
where many achievements obviously were made. Huge human costs were paid and 
ultimately, at the end of the century, they're dealing with most of the same 
questions that they faced at the beginning of the century.

So, I think the 21st century for Russia is going to be trying to really deal 
with some of the problems that never got settled in the 20th. 

Boris Fyodorov 
He is a former Russian Finance Minister (1993-1994). 
I think Russia is definitely on the way to being a normal market economy and 
democracy. These 15 years of transition are not yet finished, so we have 
another 5-10 years of transition. But it's clearly in the right direction, 
and now nobody believes that there can be a u-turn, so this is a positive 

It's clear that in Russia, despite all these scandals and ugly things, there 
is different type of life where people have their own houses and flats, where 
a lot of businesses basically thrive, where people drink more and more 
mineral water and less vodka--which is also a good sign--where lots of people 
try to get education outside the country. ...Now you have hundreds and 
hundreds of young people going around Moscow in the job market with CVs full 
of very interesting credentials, and thousands of children and young people 
are now starting in the West.

It's clear that there are lots of signs that what we see in the official 
statistics or IMF statistics is just the pinnacle of the iceberg . Russia is 
much bigger, and its economy is much richer than people suspect ...

...Slowly these market forces are finding their way. People are building 
houses. People are creating businesses. People are thinking differently, and 
demographics work in this way. That's way I'm moderately optimistic 
medium-term, because definitely we go more or less in the right direction. 
The question is the pace. The question is the cost. The question is the price 
that the older people who cannot adapt themselves to the new situation pay. 
And that's not very nice, definitely.

And I think that obviously Russia faces quite a nice future in the 21st 
century. 20th century was not our century. We had only all these wars, civil 
wars, revolutions, purges, collectivizations, scandals, corruption. Probably 
this century will be the century of Russia, and I don't believe all these 
dismal predictions that Russia will never get out of it, because it's 
absolutely clear that our country can rejuvenate itself, regenerate, even 
with the losses of millions of people who died with that century or 
emigrated. We feel that there is new life coming, and if we were more 
civilized and do thing better, probably more people would see it. 


It is clear that people don't like many things that happen in Russia. People 
probably hate a lot of them. But still they don't want to go back to the old 
communist system. And with all their disillusions, they will be criticizing 
government, they will be criticizing the president, but they don't think that 
the basic direction is wrong. That's my opinion. 

Strobe Talbott
He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in 
both his government and journalism careers. 
What are your biggest concerns?

Well, for one thing, democracy in and of itself, which is to say, the 
institutions of election, doesn't guarantee that it's always going to produce 
leaders who will take a country in a constructive direction, in this case, 
one that the United States would support. You can have what's sometimes 
called illiberal democracy; that is, democratic elections that produce 
leaders who do things that are dangerous for the world, and bad for their own 
people. And it would be wildly premature to be complacent about what will 
happen to Russia over the long haul.

There's also, of course, the haunting and deeply disturbing issue of 
Chechnya, which figures not only in Boris Yeltsin's last year in the 
Presidency, but also mid-term, as it were, in the '94 to '96 period. Chechnya 
has brought some of the worst features of the Russian past, and the Russian 
political habits. Most notably the tendency that kind of ran amuck during the 
Soviet period to categorize entire groups of people as enemies, enemies of 
the state.

That is a part of the curse of the 20th century for Russia in its Soviet 
period, and it's been part of what's come back in Chechnya. And President 
Yeltsin bears a lot of responsibility for that, in both of the Chechnyan wars 
that he oversaw. 

Lilia Shevtsova 
The author of Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality, she is senior associate in 
the Carnegie Endowment's Russian and Eurasian Program, and a former deputy 
director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and Political 
Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 
We are going backwards right now. We are not valuing freedom, we don't value 
the open window. We value the closed door of order. We are paying for the 
original sins of Yeltsin and the democrats--and our own hopes.

... Not only is Yeltsin gone--practically nobody talks about him anymore-- we 
are saying goodbye to a whole generation of political leaders, politicians 
who had hope. ... The next generation grew up during the Gorbachev and the 
early Yeltsin period. They are not romantics; they are realists. They have 
already lived through the financial collapse of 1998. They know what the West 
is all about, no illusions there. They know all about Russia: corruption, 
gangs, criminality, how politicians can be bought. They have no illusions. 
They are not romantics, and they won't be romantics. They are brusque, 
aggressive, dynamic people. They will definitely make fewer mistakes, but 
there is one problem. Very many of them are encountering Chechnya now, very 
many of them are enduring this period of disappointment, frustration, lack of 
belief in anything, a period of cynicism. 

And we don't know how this generation will emerge from the fire of cynicism 
and violence. They could be people without constraints, free people, who 
would begin building Russia from the ground up, discarding the autocracy, 
checking it into a closet. On the other hand, they could get imbued with new 
constraints, new disgraces, with a desire to get even with the complacency of 
the West, with its double standard. Who will prevail among them? People full 
of hatred? Or, free, pragmatic ones, cynical but at the same time willing to 
live life according to the rules that are the same for everybody. This is a 
big question. 

And Chechnya--you have an even deeper fear about what this could do to 

I am afraid that Chechnya, instead of curing our complexes, restoring our 
honor, instead of helping us become valuable, accomplished citizens, Chechnya 
will bring even more bitterness, fears, disappointment, a new inferiority 
complex, because Chechnya is to last for a long time. And a new desire to get 
even. But with whom then? 

Chechnya is Russia's tragedy. It is a tragedy because in 1996, seventy 
percent of the Russian people were against the war. Today, in 2000, seventy 
percent support the war. How we have changed during these years! How angry 
and limited we have become! How afraid we are of the future! And, again, we 
want to build a country based on force. We want to be feared--not loved, but 
feared. This is what I call the syndrome of the past, return to the past. 
Maybe it is temporary. But for every return to the past we pay a price. Now 
we are paying with blood. 

Pavel Voschanov
He was Boris Yeltsin's press secretary from 1991-1993 and was a journalist 
with Komsomolskaya Pravda. 
...Russia has deteriorated. I'm not sure if a Westerner can understand the 
degradation of a country. It's deteriorated both politically and socially. 
Not because in the past we boasted some ideals and a spiritual life, and then 
the country opened and the West, which has no spirituality, pushed its phony 
values down our throats. That's what our "patriots" love to say. The reason 
for this degradation is that the leaders were pursuing their own interests 
instead of educating the people. Everything has been destroyed. The education 
system, culture, absolutely everything. 

... If I were to project what kind of country Russia will be for the next ten 
years, I'd say it would be a pseudo-democratic state. An authoritarian 
country with a controlled parliament and an intimidated population. A country 
in which agencies like the KGB will be on the rise, where the military will 
enjoy an elevated status, a country that will continue to play this game: on 
the one hand, we want to be friends with the West, on the other - we are this 
unique nation, historically unique and different from the West. 

Ordinary Westerners will always be confused--is Russia a friend or is it an 
enemy? That's what we are going to live through. The Versaille syndrome. The 
same old thing. There is nothing new happening in Russia. Russia is going 
through what other nations --big and small--have gone through after a time of 
upheaval. Back then, it was defeat in war, but in Russia it was defeat in 
domestic politics, which, in Russia's case, was just like a war.


I see Russia is becoming a strange country. On the one hand, you see a 
democratic country where we have a parliamentary system and our deputies have 
a say, we have an elected president. But all of this is only a symbol of 
democracy. Society itself is not free, its spirit is not free. There is no 
economic freedom. 

Sergei Kovalev and Arseny Roginsky
Kovalev headed Russia's Human Rights Commission under Yeltsin until he 
resigned in protest over the first war in Chechnya. He is a veteran lawmaker 
who served in Soviet-era legislatures and in all three post-Soviet Dumas.
Arseny Roginsky is a historian. After being released from a Soviet prison 
camp during the Gorbachev era, he founded "Memorial," the largest human 
rights organization in Russia.
ROGINSKY: . . . You see, we are painting everything in dark and morbid 
colors. And if we are to answer your questions precisely, this is indeed what 
we should be doing. But I am full of optimism. It's the most important thing. 
We live in a country that is completely different from the one where we first 
met. Today, there are young people who have learned foreign languages , and 
they are persistent about learning foreign languages. They don't want to go 
to war, they want to do science, business, you name it. 

... None of them wants the Iron Curtain back. There are many young people 
with this mindset now, lots of them. They are completely different. They are 
not very active politically because they've had freedom. If they ever face 
losing it, they will become politically active. This is our hope. Thousands 
and thousands of grassroots organizations have sprung up around the country 
over the past years. Our government doesn't listen very much to grassroots 
organizations, but these organizations got the government used to the idea 
that they exist. They are the beginnings of civil society in Russia. This is 
extremely important, because we didn't have civil society before.. . . Our 
'Memorial' is active in 65 regions. They exist in one form or another, 
engaging in arguments and disputes with the government. People organize 
themselves in the face of various dangers. This gives us grounds for 
optimism. They have some influence in the cities. 

So, despite the fact that the general trend is going in an unfavorable 
direction and the situation is dangerous and alarming, if we look forward a 
bit then everything will turn out ok, because we have a new generation of 
people and they won't allow this country to turn back, or they won't allow it 
to become distorted. You understand? I believe in this, I absolutely believe 
in this.

KOVALEV: I agree with Arseny. I only want to give a brief quote from a poem, 
"it's a pity we won't be able to live in this wonderful time". 

ROGINSKY: This is not true.

KOVALEV: We live in a different country, you are right. But, I would put it 
like this: "I'll remain a dark pessimist for the next four-five years but in 
10-15 years when Russia becomes a civilized country -- and there's no way 
around it -- I won't be around." 

ROGINSKY: You'll be around. 


Excerpt from Frontline's interview with Lilia Shevtsova
The author of Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality, she is senior associate
in the Carnegie Endowment's Russian and Eurasian Program, and a former
deputy director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and
Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

What price has Russia paid for the failures of the last ten years?

The biggest price is the disappointment. . . . The price that we have paid
for Yeltsin's leadership is loss of faith in the potential of democratic
leaders, and disappointment in our own potential to build a civilized,
liberal democracy. This has to be the biggest price. It is hard to get away
from disappointment. People start to go to the past. Partially, we are
going backwards right now. We are not valuing freedom, we don't value the
open window. We value the closed door of order. We are paying for the
original sins of Yeltsin and the democrats--and our own hopes.

. . . Not only is Yeltsin gone--practically nobody talks about him
anymore--we are saying goodbye to a whole generation of political leaders,
politicians who had hope. . . . The next generation grew up during the
Gorbachev and the early Yeltsin period. They are not romantics; they are
realists. They have already lived through the financial collapse of 1998.
They know what the West is all about. They have no illusions there. They
know all about Russia: corruption, gangs, criminality, how politicians can
be bought. They have no illusions. They are not romantics, and they won't
be romantics. They are brusque, aggressive, dynamic people. They will
definitely make fewer mistakes, but there is one problem. Very many of them
are encountering Chechnya now. Very many of them are enduring this period
of disappointment, frustration, lack of belief in anything--a period of

And we don't know how this generation will emerge from the fire of cynicism
and violence. They could be people without constraints, free people, who
would begin building Russia from the ground up, discarding the autocracy,
checking it into a closet. On the other hand, they could get imbued with
new constraints, new disgraces, with a desire to get even with the
complacency of the West, with its double standard. Who will prevail among
them? Will it be people full of hatred or free? Pragmatic ones, cynical,
but at the same time willing to live life according to the rules that are
the same for everybody? This is a big question.

You have an even deeper fear about what Chechnya could do to people. . . .

I am afraid that, instead of curing our complexes, restoring our honor,
instead of helping us become valuable, accomplished citizens, Chechnya will
bring even more bitterness, fears, disappointment, a new inferiority
complex, a new desire to get even--but with whom, then? Because Chechnya is
to last for a long time.

Chechnya is Russia's tragedy. It is a tragedy because in 1996, 70 percent
of the Russian people were against the war. Today, in 2000, 70 percent
support the war. How we have changed during these years! How angry and
limited we have become. How afraid we are of the future. And again we want
to build a country based on force. We want to be feared--not loved, but
feared. This is what I call the syndrome of the past, a return to the past.
Maybe it is temporary. But for every return to the past, we pay a price.
Now we are paying with blood.

Is the everyday struggle to survive, the crisis within families, at the
heart of this move to the past?

The Russian society is a pyramid. At the bottom are more than 32 million
people living below the poverty line. In the middle, there is a very small
middle class, which has lost so much. There is no stability. A society is
stable only when it looks like an egg, with a massive middle class, with
three to five percent of the population at the top, those with high
incomes. A pyramid is always an essential condition for revolution. The
bottom of the pyramid wants to turn it upside down. That's what is scary. 

It is not even the poverty that is frightening. What is frightening is that
hopes and aspirations have diminished. People who five years ago wanted to
buy a car now simply want to buy a kilo of meat. And it is scary that this
pyramid is not turning into an egg. The middle class is not growing. And
this is always a reason for dissatisfaction, a reason to go into the
street, and turn the world upside down again. 

You had written before Yeltsin resigned that no one wanted to go through
Yeltsin's next resurrection. You were writing about the ups and downs and
all of that, saying "Please, spare us from Yeltsin's next resurrection." Is
Putin that next resurrection?

Putin can very well be the next reincarnation of Yeltsin. He very well can
be. He can be the man who saves the elected monarchy, having replaced
Yeltsin, and the man who prolongs its life. He can clear the stage of extra
furniture, of favorites, oligarchs, and give a new hope to the masses--a
new faith in a new, strict, fair czar--and thus he can save the monarchy.
Thus he can be a new czar. He may be a stricter czar, but he can also be
just like Yeltsin, a weak monarch who pays for his power by giving it away
and simply sitting, satisfied, in the Kremlin. This may happen. 

But Putin has one chance, a very small chance. He has a chance to
personally carry out a constitutional political reform, to get rid of this
elected monarchy, to get rid of this type of power that generates all our
problems: favorites, corruption, oligarchs, and a czar ruling over us.
Whether he will do this or not is hard to tell. So far, he is not
interested in doing this. So far, he is saying that there is a presidential
republic and that he wants to strengthen it. 

Maybe soon he'll realize that it is impossible to strengthen this republic
without reverting back to Yelstinism, because there cannot be effective
leadership without responsibility. Our president is floating over our
society, dominating our society without any responsibility for anything.
And he can survive only with the help of recurrent
revolutions--overthrowing Cabinets, changing favorites, and delegating
power to the regions, to the oligarchs and barons. This is how this
government can function. And if Putin does not understand this, everything
will roll back. 

Have you seen any signs that he is a democrat? 

I have no information that would confirm that he is a democrat. Yes, we
have information that proves that he is a market supporter, that he would
prefer that Russia had more fair, equal rules, and that the government did
a better job preserving the order, that the state were stronger. But
whether he wants to achieve all this through democracy, through checks and
balances, through giving the power back to the government, to the
parliament--I am not sure at this point. 

Most likely he himself is not sure what he wants. He is only writing his
first sentences on the board. He does not know who he is yet. He hasn't
been born yet. Thus he can go in many different directions and maybe we'll
have to pay for his mistakes. He could believe that this country needs to
be ruled through a conveyor belt by orders from the Kremlin when to turn
the lights on in the Far East. And maybe he'll soon realize that you can't
do this, that Russia needs a different approach. Russia needs to be steered
out of the dead end. 

Even though no one knows much about him, he is extraordinarily popular, at
least at this moment. How do you explain his popularity?

The strangest thing, I think, is that it is very easy to explain this
popularity. It is first of all explained by one paradox. Being an heir and
a successor to Yeltsin, Putin is received by the society as an alternative
to Yeltsin. The most interesting thing is that Putin is viewed as a
dynamic, strong, honest, civil, modest and adequate leader, which is
everything that Yeltsin wasn't. 

He is a blank page and we are writing whatever we want on it. Those on the
left are writing what those on the left want. Those on the right are
writing what they want. And he avoids answering. He is not answering any of
the questions. He wants to be liked by all. He wants to be a president of
all Russians. 

These are the two factors. He is an heir and he is an alternative to
Yeltsin. And he is a nobody right now. And everyone wants to make him his own.

And how much does this war in Chechnya have to do with his popularity?

The war in Chechnya created Putin. It proved that there is someone on stage
who can be decisive. . . . Now his main source is hope. Everybody hopes
that things won't get worse, that he will ensure that there is order, that
salaries are paid--even though they are horrendously low salaries--that he
will ensure order. People don't expect anything else from him. They
expected a lot from Yeltsin: miracles, life just like in the United States.
>From Putin they don't expect anything. People want order and stability for
the future. They want very little. 

These hopes create a Catch-22 for Putin, because no one in Russia can meet
all the hopes and aspirations. Very soon he will have to deal with
disappointments, regardless of how he performs. Maybe he will be the most
effective leader with respect to the economy, but he won't be able to
realize all the hopes. It is impossible to restore order in Russia
tomorrow. And this disappointment is going to be a very serious trial for
him. How will he emerge from it? 


Web page for CDI Russia Weekly:


Return to CDI's Home Page  I  Return to CDI's Library