This Date's Issues: 4302 • 4303
Johnson's Russia List
16 May 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Gorbachev Supports Putin but Warns Him Against Autocratic
2. Peter Mahoney: Yakovlev Election in St. Petersburg.
3. BBC MONITORING: MOST RUSSIANS SAY COUNTRY SHOULD MOVE CLOSER TO
EUROPE - OPINION POLL.
4. Kommersant: Where Did the Dollars Go?
5. RFE/RL: Sophie Lambroschini, Media-MOST Official Speaks Out on
Raid. (Igor Malashenko)
6. PBS Frontline: Interview with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
Gorbachev Supports Putin but Warns Him Against Autocratic Rule
May 15, 2000
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) - Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday he supports President Vladimir
Putin but warned Russia's new leader against resorting to authoritarian
methods in trying to restore stability and the country's global clout.
A report prepared by a think-tank run by Gorbachev concludes Putin will
increase government controls as he moves to fight lawlessness and revive the
country's international prestige.
``Moderate authoritarianism is the most likely option,'' the former Soviet
president said at a news conference presenting the report. ``This doesn't
mean that we are embracing it, we simply believe it to be the most probable
Some Russian politicians and others have expressed fears that Putin, who
spent 15 years as a Soviet KGB agent, may reverse some of the democratic
reforms of the post-Soviet era.
Gorbachev voiced hope that Putin, elected March 26, will meet public
expectations by reviving the moribund economy and combating rampant
Gorbachev, who resigned as the last Soviet president when the Soviet Union
collapsed in December 1991, has been critical of his longtime foe, former
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whom he blamed for economic failures and
widespread official graft.
Corruption accusations plagued Yeltsin's administration in its last years,
tarnishing Russia's international image and spooking foreign investors.
Putin has spoken in general terms about the need to combat corruption, but
hasn't taken a stance on the corruption allegations against prominent members
of Yeltsin's inner circle.
Yeltsin made Putin his political heir when he unexpectedly resigned Dec. 31.
Putin won presidential elections March 26, with many voters attracted by his
promise to restore strong government and restore Russia as a great power.
Gorbachev said he remains concerned that Putin might overstep the boundaries
of what the report described as moderately strong rule. ``Who can really draw
the line that shows what is moderate?'' he said.
In one example, Gorbachev cited Putin's recent order to appoint seven
presidential representatives to oversee Russia's regions. The move was seen
as an attempt to tighten federal control over Russia's far-flung provinces
and limit the degree of their independence.
He urged Putin to clarify his intentions, saying that the current uncertainty
feeds concern. ``It all can be turned in any direction you like,'' Gorbachev
Gorbachev, who is popular abroad but detested by many Russians, warned Putin
against any temptation to establish autocratic rule.
``We must dispel the myth that a strong state must be dictatorial,'' he said.
``A strong state envisages active regional and municipal authorities, and a
free press,'' he said.
From: email@example.com (Peter Mahoney)
Subject: Yakovlev Election in St. Petersburg
Date: Mon, 15 May 2000
A couple of brief observations on the Yakovlev election.
There is a striking contrast between the massive political full-court press
mounted against Luzhkov and Primakov and the feeble, almost laughable,
attempt by Putin to mount a political opposition to Yakovlev. One might
expect -- given the personal enmity between the two men -- that Putin would
use all the massive power at his disposal to get Yakovlev. Certainly,
Yakovlev, like Luzhkov, has plenty of "soft" spots that could easily have
been probed and exposed. Why then the lackluster effort?
Two possible explanations come to mind, neither of which is mutually
exclusive. One, Yakovlev knows where all of Putin's skeletons are buried in
St. Petersburg, and Putin couldn't risk exposing Yakovlev without getting
the same treatment in return. Two, Yakovlev is important personally to
Putin, but is not important to Putin's oligarchical backers, who refused to
make available to Putin the kind of resources used against Luzhkov and
Primakov. To the extent that the second explanation might be true, it would
tend to reinforce the image of Putin not as the dynamic powerful leader that
has been projected, but rather as what he has always been throughout his
career: a toady little bureaucrat incapable of doing anything other than
what he is told.
Peter P. Mahoney
MOST RUSSIANS SAY COUNTRY SHOULD MOVE CLOSER TO EUROPE - OPINION POLL
Source: Ekho Moskvy news agency, Moscow, in Russian 0823 gmt 15 May 00
[No dateline as received] The ROMIR agency has told RIA that 50 per cent of
participants in an opinion poll conducted by the agency said that Russia
should gradually strengthen ties with Europe.
The poll took place in April, involving 2000 Russians from 41 constituent
parts of the Russian Federation.
The idea that Russia and Europe should each move in their own direction was
supported by 15.1 per cent of those polled. Also, 9.1 per cent backed
integration with Europe.
ROMIR said that 9.3 per cent had had difficulties answering this question.
Russia Today press summaries
May 15, 2000
Where Did the Dollars Go?
The Central Bank published official information on the total cash dollar
savings that the Russian population and enterprises had in 1999. According to
it, the volume of cash dollars has decreased by one billion for the past
year. This means, that despite official government reports, the last year was
bad for the Russian economy. The sale of dollars in cash by banks has reduced
and the buying has grown in the past year. This means that people had to sell
their savings, because traditionally, the Russian population believes in cash
dollars more than in the banking system. Even the poorest people, like
elderly pensioners bought ten or twenty dollars from time to time in the
past. But now they do not have enough rubles to make their living, and they
have to sell dollars. The banks imported half as much dollars in 1999, as
compared with 1998 8.3 billions against 16.2 billions.
The daily concludes that the growth of production did not make the Russian
population any wealthier. On the contrary, Russian citizens have become
poorer, because all increase of salaries was eaten by inflation.
Russia: Media-MOST Official Speaks Out on Raid
By Sophie Lambroschini
The police raid on the Moscow offices of Media-MOST, a media group critical
of the Kremlin, last Thursday spurred misgivings about the future of press
freedom in Russia. The deputy head of Media-MOST, Igor Malashenko, was the
guest on the "Face to Face" program of RFE/RL's Russian Service this Sunday.
He shared his thoughts about the political backdrop of what he calls the
Kremlin's offensive to destroy Media-MOST.
Moscow, 15 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Media-MOST officials say it looked more like
an anti-terrorist operation than the routine application of a search warrant.
But law-enforcement authorities say last week's raid on the media company --
when armed police in balaclavas burst into the media holding's main office --
was part of an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the company's
Media-MOST, controlled by magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, owns several of Russia's
more critical media outlets -- including NTV, Ekho Moskvy radio, and the
daily newspaper "Segodnya."
Police say the company is suspected of collecting information on its
competitors by using bugs and wiretaps -- an activity believed to be common
among Russian private security services.
On RFE/RL's Russian Service's "Face to Face" program on Sunday, Media-MOST
deputy head Igor Malashenko denied these allegations. And he said the police
ignored his company's legal rights, searching and confiscating documents,
computer discs and video cassettes without cataloging them. This lack of a
record of what was taken, he said, gives the authorities leeway to
manufacture incriminating evidence and claim it came from the office.
Malashenko repeated the calls of many journalists and politicians for
President Vladimir Putin to speak out on the raid.
"Those politicians who are saying that it's not Putin, that someone acted
behind his back, are apparently reacting correctly. In this way, it gives
Putin some freedom for maneuvering. But to my distress, if you ask me, Putin
in a broad sense did sanction this operation. He didn't make the specific
decisions, of course -- which men would do what, how many men, that around
500 law-enforcement agents participated. But I think he gave his approval."
Malashenko accused the Kremlin of trying to force Media-MOST into "total
capitulation" to the state version of events. He said the government wants to
get its hands on a good investment in the broadcast media market.
"In the Russian context, changing the management [of a company], changing the
editor in chief, means strangling the company -- forcing the media outlet to
serve as a propaganda tool. Of course, first and foremost they're interested
in the NTV television channel. Of course, they don't plan to buy anything.
They think that [because] they're the authorities they're in the right.
Everything should be given to them for free because they are the power."
But Malashenko argued that the harassment of independent media is not a
policy of Putin alone. He said the battle against the press is the natural
consequence of having a political class that comes from the secret services.
The situation would have been much the same if Yevgeny Primakov, former
counter-intelligence chief and a longstanding presidential favorite before
Putin's emergence last fall, had become president. Only the targets of
harassment would have changed, Malashenko said.
"I'm convinced that [Primakov] would have tried in the same way to get media
outlets to submit to his authority. I think that [the pro-Putin] ORT would
have gotten the whole works, that Primakov wouldn't have held back. He comes
from the same special services as Putin, so I don't see why his behavior
should be different."
Malashenko said the Soviet precedent proved that a state run by KGB officers
is doomed to fail. Such men, he said, are not capable of meeting the
challenges of a modern economy.
Return of the Czar
Broadcast May 9, 2000
Interview with Strobe Talbott
He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in
both his government and journalism careers.
When you took over the Russia portfolio, the great transition of the Soviet
Union had been going on for a year. What were your own hopes and expectations?
1993 was the beginning of the post-Soviet, post-Communist period, in Russia.
Among Russians living in Russia, and those abroad, there was a combination of
high hopes and deep uncertainty. I can remember one of several trips that I
made there, going back to see somebody I had been visiting since the 1960s.
What struck me most was the mixed feelings, and deep relief that the Soviet
period was truly--and they hoped, finally--over. There were high hopes for
the kinds of people who seemed to have emerged as the leaders of Russia, and
for Boris Yeltsin in particular. But there was a lot of apprehension about
what was next.
There was also what turned out to be quite an insightful impression and
concern about political culture. This is a country that had not had a
political culture--it's certainly not a political culture of democracy or
civil society--or to put it differently, had exactly the wrong political
culture. That had come tumbling down, virtually overnight, with nothing to
take its place.
And that would create a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, human nature abhors a
vacuum. What forces would emerge to fill that vacuum? There was a lot of
concern that some of those forces would be quite ugly, and that's what we
have seen over the ensuing seven or eight years. We've seen the good, the
bad, the ugly, and the ambiguous, all contending for the future of Russia,
with Boris Yeltsin presiding over that struggle, with varying degrees of
What did you think of Boris Yeltsin the first time you met him?
He came to Washington during our own presidential campaign back in 1992. He
met with President Bush, and also with somebody he considered to be an
implausible candidate for the presidency, Bill Clinton. He radiated
confidence and energy in those days, which was not always the case later on.
President Clinton developed a fascination with him as a political animal, if
I can put it that way. As soon as President Clinton won the election in this
country, he advanced great curiosity about what was going on in Russia. Those
were the days when President Yeltsin was battling with the Soviet-era
parliament. The battle turned ugly during the first year of the Clinton
President Clinton was very interested in how somebody who came out of a
communist totalitarian system, and indeed had thrived in the old Soviet
system, would adjust to the workings of democracy. Once President Clinton was
in office, the first time that they met was in Vancouver, in early 1993. The
word again that comes to mind is great confidence, forcefulness, command,
personality --that's what Boris Yeltsin radiated.
I've been told by others who observed the two of them in Vancouver that they
discovered in many ways they were very much alike--physically--backslapping,
handshaking, and that sort of thing.
Yes. President Yeltsin loved the idea that when the leaders of these two
countries got together, there was no problem they couldn't solve--including
problems that had brought their governments, their bureaucracy, as he liked
to put it, to an impasse. That refrain really continued throughout the next
seven years. "Bill," he'd say, calling him "Bill," "when you and I get
together and agree on something, there's no problem that we can't resolve."
It turned out to be a bit of an overstatement. But it's also the case that
the relationship that developed between President Clinton and President
Yeltsin did enable two governments to solve some problems that might
otherwise have been insoluble, and very much to the benefit of American
I'm thinking in particular of the issue that was front and center--that of
Russian military forces in the three Baltic states, which had gone from being
illegally annexed parts of the Soviet Union to being independent countries.
Yet they still had Russian forces on their territory.
In the Vancouver meeting in 1993, President Yeltsin was clearly thinking
about the problem of what to do with these soldiers, and especially their
officers, if they were brought back into Russia. He asked President Clinton
for help on finding housing for them, and that was indeed one of the line
items in the Economic Assistance Program that we had back in those days.
But there was a lot of resistance in Russia to ever getting those forces out
of the Baltic states. And it was only because President Clinton and President
Yeltsin continued to work on the issue over the next year and a half that
Russian forces did withdraw in the latter part of 1994.
There were a number of tough arms control issues. There was the development
of a cooperative relationship between NATO, which was enlarging and taking in
new members contrary to the wishes of Russia, and the Russian Federation,
what we called the NATO Russia Founding Act. That could only have come about
because of presidential interaction.
They needed to find terms on which Russian forces would be able to
participate in peacekeeping on Bosnia, even though the overall military
responsibility for the operation would be with NATO. Again, former Secretary
of Defense Bill Perry did heroic and critical work with his Russian
counterpart. The decisions had to be taken at a presidential level, and I
think were a direct result of the chemistry developed between President
Clinton and President Yeltsin.
The last example I would cite had to do what in many ways has been the
toughest test of US-Russian relations in the last seven-plus years, and that
is Kosovo. When it became necessary because of the brutality and stubbornness
of Milosevic for NATO to actually use military force, it was a very bitter
pill for the Russians to swallow.
Yet Russia participated in the diplomacy that brought that war to an end on
terms that met NATO's bottom lines. And Russia also agreed to participate on
the ground in the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. Again, it's hard to
imagine that even being possible, were it not for the relationship between
President Clinton and President Yeltsin.
Back in 1993 at your confirmation hearings, you described Yeltsin as the
personification of Russian reform. Tell me what you meant by that, both in
terms of Yeltsin and what the definition of reform was.
What I meant was very simply that he was the president of Russia, who, by the
way, had emerged in open elections, even while he was still part of the
Soviet Union. He was a reformer. He believed very much in dismantling the old
structures of Soviet communist power, putting in place democracy, market
economics, and engaging cooperatively rather than confrontationally with the
West. The Russian people invested a lot of hopes in him. So did many of us in
And while the years that came after that were full of setbacks,
disappointments and moments of real tension, 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 to elect the
legislators in levels of participation, of voter turnout, that would be the
envy of other countries. And twice in the post- Soviet period they've 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 championing values and ideals that we hold dear,
and that we hope will prevail there over time. They have a free press. It's 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 when we were ideological rivals on a global basis. But I
do want to stress there are lots and lots of problems, reasons for concern,
and reasons for uncertainty over how it will turn out.
What are those problems, and what are your biggest concerns?
For one thing, democracy in and of itself--which is to say the institution of
elections--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--democratic elections that produce leaders who do things that are
dangerous for the world, and bad for their own people. It would be wildly
premature to be complacent about what will happen to Russia over the long
There's also 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 in the 1994 to 1996 period. Chechnya has brought out 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 of the state.
That is a part of the curse of the twentieth 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.
Many people are arguing that President Putin's extraordinary rise is due
almost entirely to his prosecution of this latest war.
I don't think there is any question whatsoever that President Putin rode the
issue of the war in Chechnya from a position of relative obscurity to a
position of ultimate executive power in Russia. I can remember very vividly
when President Yeltsin made Mr. Putin, who was then head of the National
Security Council, the prime minister. There was a lot of skepticism, among
experts on Russia, and among Russians, in the United States government, and
very much in my own head about whether Prime Minister Putin would indeed be
able to make it through the electoral process to succeed President Yeltsin.
But he did make it. And the issue over all others that allowed him to
demonstrate that he was tough and was going to crack down on terrorists and
criminal elements was the Chechnyan war. He has, therefore, a particular
responsibility to face up to the ugly and brutal facts about the way in which
that war has been conducted, and to lift this cloud over Russia's standing in
the eyes of the world that Chechnya has created.
What about President Putin's attitude toward the freedom of the press?
I understand why people who live in Russia and who depend on what happens
there for their own personal happiness and safety have a lot of apprehensions
about what's going on there. And I think those of those who have the luxury
of observing Russia from a distance and occasionally visiting there have to
be very respectful of the special pressures under which Russians live.
That said, it strikes me as hard to understand how anybody could say that now
is a more hopeless time for Russia than what existed there as recently as a
decade or a little more than ago. Yes, there are disturbing, dangerous
developments. But there's also brave, equal fighting going on behalf of
values and institutions that, if they succeed, will bring Russia to the point
where its own people will have pride and hope because they live in a modern
civilized normal country. That may sound a little condescending coming from
somebody like me, but it's exactly the words that many Russians used to
describe their own hopes for the future.
One of my own dearest friends in Russia once said, "You know, we have really
when it comes down to it, only two words in the Russian language, and all
other words don't matter. And those two words are 'Hooray' and 'Alas.'" The
point of that story is partly that, during the Soviet period when they were
under dictatorship, they were compelled to chant "Hooray," all the time.
That's no longer the case. They have the freedom to tell the world and each
other and their own leaders and their Duma representatives how they really
And I think that one manifestation of that is that a lot of Russians say
"Alas," a great deal. There's a lot to say "alas" to. But there's also a lot
to be more hopeful about. It's their struggle. They have to work this out. In
our own self interest, we need to do everything we can to support those in
Russia who are struggling on behalf of what we believe in.
In October of 1993, the crisis had been building between Yeltsin and
Parliament. You were literally watching the television, as many of us were,
when the tanks first began to fire. Describe that situation to me. What was
your reaction as you saw what was happening?
It was an extraordinary and unforgettable episode. I had moved into my office
from the seventh floor of the Department of State, and was literally camped
out there. I was sleeping a little bit on a couch in my office, but working
with my colleagues to respond as best and most appropriately as we could to
the crisis as it was unfolding.
In the wee hours of the morning, I went down to the Operations Center of the
State Department, the 24-hour command post, and was talking to my Russian
counterpart about what was happening. And we both stopped in
mid-conversation, because we were both watching CNN screens--watching the
commencement of the military operation to retake the Parliament building.
And it was a very chilling moment, because clearly deadly force was being
used, was going to be used, and there were going to be people killed. Now not
all, but some of the forces inside of the Parliament were also violent. And
they had broken out at one point, and had moved on the radio and television
station, fired a rocket and propelled a grenade at the door of it. So for a
moment there, it was an extremely bloody and dangerous moment.
President Yeltsin himself used the phrase that all Russians "have been
scorched by the breath of fratricide." It was hardly a proud moment for him,
or for the Russian people, that the authorities had to kill their own people
to restore order.
At the same time, there was a sense then and subsequently that the forces in
Russians politics that were determined to hang on to the more brutal aspects
of Soviet power were reasserting themselves. And during 1993 and into 1994,
there were a couple of key points. President Yeltsin did opt for what were
essentially democratic measures, in that he gave the Russian people a chance
for a referendum in the spring, and then another referendum regarding the new
constitution in the fall--to let their own views dictate what government
policy would ultimately be.
It wasn't pretty. It was ugly. It was sometimes bloody. But as long as the
prevailing instinct was in the direction of reform and doing things
differently and letting the people decide, it was something that the United
States could support in broad terms.
I was there . . . watching CNN in Moscow at that time. My film crew and I
were there again in early December of 1993, in the lead-up to the elections.
We were at Pushkin Square one night. And when the crowd realized that we were
Americans, for the first time ever they started yelling at me. They were
yelling about the United States supporting Yeltsin as he shot up their White
House, etc. Was that reaction something that you understood or saw at the
time? There has been an unmistakable . . . deterioration of the goodwill for
the West and for the United States over this period. I think there are some
specific explanations for that, particularly NATO enlargement into a much
greater extent. The NATO military action against the targets in Yugoslavia
was deeply frustrating and infuriating to many Russians for a combination of
But there has also been a more general reason for the decline in good feeling
on the part of many average Russians for the United States and the West . . .
they're frustrated and worried about their own situation. They feel that
their country has come down in the world in some fashion, that it isn't taken
as seriously, that a lot of points of stability and certainty that they could
count on during the Soviet period aren't there anymore, and there aren't
others to take their place.
That makes them angry at their own powers that be, but it also makes them
angry at us, for a combination of reasons. First of all, we have supported
the Russian leadership when we felt that it was in our interest to do so, and
if the steps that the Russian leadership was taking were in the interests of
the United States.
But also, this isn't just a Russian phenomenon. There's a natural human
tendency to transfer blame to others. If the world is not looking very
bright, look at outsiders who might be responsible, and there is, alas, a
considerable tradition of that in Russian history.
But I don't want to belittle the importance of this. I think it's a serious
issue that we're going to have to address when President Clinton goes in the
very near future to Moscow. He will speak directly to the Russian people, as
he has done in the past. We're going to have to grapple hard on with this
problem of Russian attitudes towards the United States, and be absolutely
honest with them about what we're for and what we're against, and why there
are certain things that are going on in Russia that we can support, and other
things that we're going to have to oppose.
But at the same time, we can't be paralyzed by the fact that there's been a
rise in anti-Americanism there. We're just going to have to work the issue
with their leaders, and, directly with the Russian people to the extent
. . . After the events of October 1993 . . . people on the streets were
looking at this Parliament that they had voted for. Yes, it was when it was
still the Soviet Union, but they had voted. And that was some sort of an end
for them, some sort of a blow to their idealism.
They are obviously entitled to react to and characterize events in their own
country in their own way. And it's not for us to tell them how they ought to
react. . . . But what I'm about to say is an absolute fact. It isn't the end.
There is still not only a Russia, but it is a Russia that is trying to figure
out where it's going, and how fast to get there, and by what means. And those
are open questions that are being contested, not in back alleys, not in the
dungeons of the Lubyanka Prison, and not in one office in a corner of the
Those questions are being contested all across a great big country that
stretches across eleven time zones. It's being contested in parts of the
country that are kind of oases of reform, and it is being contested in parts
of the country that are sort of theme parks for the old Soviet way of doing
things. It's a very mixed bag, and it's a wide-open contest. And it's
following rules set by the Russian constitution.
Many of the answers about leadership are going to be provided through the
workings of the ballot box. That's new. It's a long way from perfect. It's a
long way from flawless. Corruption is a huge problem. Manipulation of the
press is a huge problem. But there are still hundreds of independent
newspapers and television stations in Russia. And that's hundreds more than
there were as recently as a little more than a decade ago.
I've been told by some people that the U.S. government, along with the
Yeltsin government, expected that the reformers, the Yeltsin team, were in
fact going to win a nice majority in that new parliament.
1993 was obviously going to be a critical year for Russian democracy, not
least because of the more or less constant showdown, which turned bloody
between the Kremlin--the presidency--and the Soviet-era parliament. And there
was a new constitution as well. As we headed into the elections of December,
1993, nobody in his right mind would predict what was going to happen.
. . . The strong showing of the Zhirinovsky group was a bracing surprise to
many. There was a rush to try to understand why it had happened. And I think
both at the time, and in retrospect, the explanation has become fairly clear.
It wasn't because masses of Russian people liked the obnoxious and dangerous
things that Vladimir Zhirinovsky was saying so much as they were registering
a protest vote against what was a fairly reformist government associated with
Two years later in December of 1995, when there was another parliamentary
election, there was another protest vote--this time not so much in the
direction of the liberal democrats, or neither liberal nor democrat, but
rather towards the Congress. And there were a number of people who felt at
the time, "Oh my goodness, that means that Russia is going to reinstate
communism, and a Communist is going to be elected the next president of
Russia." That didn't happen in 1996. President Yeltsin beat Mr. Zyuganov, the
head of the Communist Party.
So again, predictions were wrong, and/or were premature. The system survived.
Russians continued to go to the polls, keeping the constitutional rules. And
as long as that continues, along with the evolution of civil society--very
importantly including a free press--I think it would be a self-fulfilling bit
of foolishness, to proclaim reform in Russia to be over in some fashion.
Within a couple of weeks after that December 1993 election, you said perhaps
what was needed was . . . "less shock and more therapy." What did you mean by
My use of that phrase, "less shock and more therapy," was a play on the
concept of shock therapy. . . . It was a bit of a wisecrack. However, there
was a point there. In a democracy, you need to have what might be called a
critical mass of voting citizens who support the policies of the government,
and who feel that their own lives are benefiting and their hopes for the
future are improving as a result of government policies. When you don't have
that kind of support, and voters are going to go to the pools and vote
against pretty much anybody who is against the powers that be, it's going to
be a setback for the powers that be, and their policies.
I think that the Russian reformers, while they might not have liked that
phrase at the time, have taken steps to do more in the way of social safety
net, the personal and public welfare measures, along with the dismantlement
of the old Soviet state. The old Soviet state, for all of its evils--not to
mention its practical shortcomings--did give a lot of citizens the sense that
they were being taken care of.
Reform, for all of its virtues, and all the reasons that we want it to
succeed, carries with it the danger that average folks will feel that there's
nothing in it for them, except for crime in the streets, loss of their
pensions, no decent health care, and things like that.
And if that's the dynamic that develops, they're going to throw the bums out.
They're going to vote against the people who are trying to carry on with
reform. So there has to be a reconciliation between reform and public
I've been told that you got a bit of heat, not just from Russian reformers,
but from the U.S. Treasury Department over what you are calling your
I've had the good fortune of having terrific friends and colleagues in the
United States government working on the issue of Russia, and none better than
my colleagues in the Treasury Department. . . . If my Treasury colleagues
found fault with that line of mine, they're absolutely right. I knew pretty
much as soon as it came out of my mouth that I had just as soon have be able
to edit the transcript. But since it was a press conference, I couldn't do
that. What I'm trying to discuss here is the substantive issue, not the
throwaway line that made for a provocative headline.
We don't need provocative headlines. What we need is hardheaded analysis. And
Treasury, the State Department, and I think a lot of Russian reformers are
together on the basic point. You've got to find a way to keep shock therapy
from being so shocking to so many people, that they will throw the shock
therapist out next time they get a chance to vote in the polls. That's really
Several people in the Moscow embassy who were State Department employees were
reporting on the political realities on the ground. And they described what
ensued after December of 1993, and sort of through 1994 and on, as an open
warfare in the Moscow embassy, between the political section--the State
Department--and the economic section. The economic policies that the U.S. was
pushing were creating problems on the ground, and were not welcome news by
the economic section.
I think that's a simplistic rewriting of recent history. I lived through the
deliberation within the United States government which were played out here
in Washington, as well as in Moscow at our embassy there And I can tell you
that we have managed to preserve among those of us working on this issue a
very high degree of civility among ourselves. These are tough, tough issues.
Most of all, they're tough issues for Russians. How do they take this giant
country of theirs, with its immense natural resources; with its immense human
resources; its dreadful past; and its absence of political and economic
culture that qualify it for the modern world; how to make a modern country
out of it?
That's tough for them, but that's tough for us as we try to help them do it.
And the reason we're trying to help them do it is for our benefit, as well as
for theirs in the world. The United States will be better off if Russia
succeeds in this.
And there are going to be lots of issues on a daily basis that are not going
to lend themselves to easy answers, and that are going to lend themselves to
debate. And we debate this all the time, and not just between the economic
types and the political types or the Treasury Department and the State
Department. We debate it within my own office at the State Department. I
debate it with myself. Because there's no recipe book anywhere on the shelves
of the greatest library in the world, and certainly not on the shelves of the
Department of State, of how you help a country make the transition from
communism to democracy and market economics. We're making this up as we go
along, in a very real sense. And we're going to make some mistakes, and Lord
knows that the people we're trying to help are going to make some mistakes,
So it's not surprising that there's going to be a little bit of friction, and
quite a bit of disagreement. I happen to think that if you look at the last
seven-plus years, there's also been a high degree of continuity and a high
degree of consensus, about what to do. We have stuck with the essentials of
our policy, and I think the United States is better off. Among other things,
Russia is pursuing a rather uneven course as it works its way towards a
future that we hope will be a future as a normal democratic, civilized,
That makes it all the more important that the United States be steady. And
steadiness has been one of the hallmarks, I think, of the way President
Clinton has overseen and guided this policy over the last seven years.
But the biggest criticism is that there were people--not you--but people in
the U.S. government who were imposing, or attempting to impose, the so-called
Washington consensus, a very rigid formula for economic reform on Russia.
There's the criticism that the people who were attempting to impose this were
not people who knew very much about Russia at all.
It's a little difficult to discuss this in the abstract. I can tell you that
the people in the Department of Treasury who had been working on Russia for
the duration of this administration are people who do know Russia. If you're
talking about the current Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, who has
been working on this issue in three different capacities now, he has made
repeated trips there. He has developed a personal relationship with people
across a broad spectrum inside of Russia. David Lipton, who worked with him
for a number of critical years, knows that country very well, and is highly
respected by the people we most respect on the Russian side, both in pure
economics, and on the political side as well.
The essence of the economic dimension of the argument here really comes down
to whether economics, like physics, obeys certain laws and rules, or whether
you can play fast and loose with those rules. And I think that Treasury, to
its great credit, has made sure that we who work the diplomacy and political
side, and the Russians themselves, remain hardheaded about what will and
won't work in economics.
This isn't a question of rigidity. It's a question of realism. And I think
that there has been a high degree of harmony within the U.S. government,
specifically between the State Department and the Treasury Department. One of
the things that we're observing right now, as Mr. Putin puts together a team
and decides on his policy, is that he, too, is trying to reconcile what might
be called the laws of economics with the messy realities of the transitional
So, they get it. Now, whether they're going to come up with all of the same
answers that we would suggest . . . is a different issue. But there's no
getting away from the fact that Treasury would not be fulfilling its own
responsibilities if it were to simply give Russia or any other country a pass
on the basic issues of what does and doesn't work in economics.
But critics say that the so-called Washington consensus--which created
discontent among the population, as was revealed in the polls in December
1993 . . . that that should have been a signal that the policies should have
been reexamined. There was a missed opportunity. But this economic rigidity
kept pushing the larger policy forward.
We reexamined our policy and assumptions on which our policy is based all the
time. And we've been doing that since the very beginning. At no point have we
been convinced that we had all the answers, the perfect formula, we could
just sort of put the instrument panel of U.S. policy towards Russia on kind
of autopilot, and go back into the cabin somewhere. We've had our hands on
the controls all along, and we've made adjustments. We've made course
corrections; there's been a lot of buffeting, because of unforeseen or
disagreeable developments. We've taken account of that.
Let me give you one example. At one point, it became clear that a great deal
of money provided by the international financial institutions for
macroeconomic support to Russia was not staying in Russia and doing what it
was supposed to do. It was hightailing it out of the country, and ending up
in Swiss bank accounts or Riviera real estate. So we got down to the into the
boiler room of the policy, and made some serious adjustments.
And we will continue to do that; we've always done that. Nobody in any of the
American branches of government or departments of the executive branch that's
been working on this has ever been under the illusion that it was going to be
easy, or it was going to be amenable to one ready-made set of answers.
In the 1996 elections, Yeltsin is in single digits, and the Communists are on
a roll, essentially. From the United States, what are we looking at?
It was an interesting time, obviously. We meant what we said, when we
said--as we did repeatedly--that the important thing was that the Russian
people got a chance to choose their leaders. It would have been both wrong
and stupid for us to get in a position of endorsing or picking and choosing
among our Russian candidates. And we had had some experience, by the way,
with the workings of Russian democracy producing some outcomes at the polls
that were not, in the short term, entirely to our relief or liking. In fact,
we had two pretty dramatic examples.
We had December, 1993, when the Zhirinovsky party did very well, indeed,
better than expected. Then in 1995, the Communists did better than expected.
Our line throughout was to let the Russian people decide. As long as the
constitution is respected, as long as the Russian people continue to get a
chance to vote in free and fair elections, it's more likely than not to come
out all right in the long run.
Now, when it came to the presidential election in 1996, our basic position
was the same on principle. There's no question that we welcomed the final
outcome, which was a second-round victory for President Yeltsin.
Russians, as you know, watched Yeltsin after that 1996 election become
someone who was further and further away from them. And he was. He had been
the hope for democracy, the symbol of democracy. Did you observe the same
sort of thing? How did that affect our ability to negotiate with him?
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. His career, including the way in which it gets
played out publicly, contained plenty of reminders of some fairly basic human
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.
. . . One reminder of this . . . is that, despite the immense unpopularity
that befell him during much of his presidency, he was able to get his way . .
. regarding who his successor would be. It's quite amazing, when you think
about it. 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 Vladimir Putin out of relative obscurity and
say, "Not only is this guy my prime minister, but he's going to be the next
president of Russia. He's going to succeed me as the president of the Russian
Federation." You could hear the guffawing not only from Vilnius to
Vladivostok, Vilnius no longer being in Russia. But you could hear it all
around the world. And yet, Vladimir Putin is the president of Russia today.
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.
And they also proved capable of big-time damage limitation between the two of
them. A number of the things that happened while Bill Clinton was in the
White House and Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin were dangerous in their own
right, and also could have been utterly destructive of the whole idea of a
U.S.-Russian partnership. And yet that relationship survived. And a lot of
the credit goes to Boris Yeltsin.
I agree with you that Putin's ascendancy and now, his election to the
presidency was "constitutional." But there are lots of Russian commentators
who have both said and written that it was not exactly democratic. Snap
elections were called. The Kremlin and/or oligarchy-controlled media ran an
all-out campaign. We've already talked about the war in Chechyna. Yes,
Russians went to the poll and put their ballots in boxes. But during Soviet
times, Russians went to polls and put ballots in boxes for whom they were
supposed to vote for.
Chechnya is real bad. Chechnya is far and away the most serious threat, both
to Russia's ongoing evolution in the direction we hope it will take, and also
to Russia's relations with the outside world that we have seen in the past
decade. One of the ironies of Chechnya is that we've seen it figure in
Russian democracy in a very contradictory way.
In 1994-1996, it was the unpopularity of the war in Chechnya that induced
President Yeltsin and others to get the war over with, and rush . . . the
pullback out of Chechnya. So there the workings of Russian democracy helped
bring the war to an end.
Ironically, and I would say potentially tragically, in 1999-2000, the
popularity of the war helped keep it going, stoked the fires, as well as
helped the ascendancy of Mr. Putin from a relatively obscure position to a
position of ultimate executive power.
Now, in both cases, it says something about the mindset of the Russian
people. We have to hope that the Russian people will have a chance to ponder
what Chechnya really means, including for them. Is it a healthy and positive
thing for Russia to have an entire body of population--however much a
minority it might be--treated sometime brutally and lethally, as though they
were enemies of the Russian state? I don't think so, and one has to hope that
they won't think so either, over time.
Now, as for the media, there is no question that there has been a lot of
manipulation of the media by a whole variety of actors on the Russian
political stage. It's also the case that there is still an open and free
press there. We, in being candid with the Russians, need to continue to put a
lot of emphasis on the importance that they treat the media as a critical
ingredient of civil society in Russia's chances of making it as a democracy.
That's a kind of cautionary point we need to work into the way in which we
think and talk about what's happening in Russia.
As for the process that resulted in President Putin's now being inaugurated,
in Russia, there were rules. There was a constitution, and there was a
nationwide election with 75 percent turnout, which international observers
judged to be basically free and fair. Was it perfect? No. Was it flawless?
No. But was it democratic? Yes. And I think that's the standard that we
But we can't keep that standard in a vacuum. We've got to look at it in the
context of what's gone before, what will come next, and what's happening in
society as a whole--including the issue of whether civil society is
strengthening, and whether the free press is getting freer and stronger, or
And President Putin needs to understand that the international community's
ability to help him succeed in making Russia a strong country is going to
depend in large measure on how he defines strength. Will he define strength
in the terms of the twentieth century and the nineteenth century and the
eighteenth century, which is that strength equals force? Or will he define
strength in twenty-first century terms, in which strength means your ability
to plug into the global economy, and to be a full and vigorous participant in
the international community?
And you've said about the phrase that he's used, "the dictatorship of the
law," that one should pause in parsing that phrase. . . .
Yes. I'd like to be a little surer than I am where the accent is--in the word
"dictatorship" or on the word "law." I think the term that's more common in
the West, in the United States, is "rule of law." . . . But maybe . . . his
vocabulary is evolving along with other things in Russia.
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