May 29, 2000
This Date's Issues: 4331 4332
Johnson's Russia List
29 May 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. BBC MONITORING: RUSSIA'S GENE POOL UNDER THREAT IF CHILDREN NOT SAVED, SAYS DUMA DEPUTY.
2. The Guardian (UK): Amelia Gentleman, BACK TO THE USSR: VLADIMIR PUTIN WAS OFFICIALLY INAUGURATED ONLY THREE WEEKS AGO.
BUT ALREADY HE SEEMS TO BE LEADING RUSSIA DOWN THE FAMILIAR ROAD TO TOTALITARIANISM.
3. BBC MONITORING: RUSSIAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN WARNS OF DANGER OF TOTALITARIANISM.
4. Reuters: Putin faces high hopes of European Union officials.
5. The Times (UK): Giles Whittell, Archive shows Putin blunder as spymaster.
6. The Russia Journal: Col. Vladimir Mukhin, Putinís shakeup relies
on security forces. Not all are linked to Russiaís oligarchs Ė or to the Family.
7. Ed Crane: Jacob Kipp on the Putin Question.
8. Invitation to a Concert at Russia House in Washington.
9. Andrew Miller: The Gathering Storm. The Oblast of Russia?
10. Washington Post: Daniel Williams, Fees for Eternity. (Burial business in St. Petersburg)]
RUSSIA'S GENE POOL UNDER THREAT IF CHILDREN NOT SAVED, SAYS DUMA DEPUTY
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 0920 gmt 28 May 00
[The government's "Parliamentary hour" in the State Duma on 26th May focused on measures being taken by the government to protect children.
It first featured the questions asked by three deputies: an intervention by Communist Tamara Pletneva who highlighted the fact that in some families children have everything, whereas in other families they do not receive the most essential things for years on end; People's Deputy MP Anatoliy Aksakov asking whether the government was envisaging any economic measures to stimulate an increased birth rate, e.g. resurrecting the tax on childlessness; communist Yevgeniy Kosterin asking about joint action by the government and State Duma to counteract the Americanization of the Russian electronic media with video featuring murders, violence and pornography...
The question of how the childhood for Russian children can be preserved was asked by Union of Right Union MP Vera Lekareva. She also made the concluding speech:
"I am convinced that State Duma deputies will agree with me that children's health can actually be proclaimed a national disaster.
If we do not take emergency measures now to save our children we will be losing the nation's gene pool 10-15 years from now and this will undermine the country's defence capability.
One-third out of the 35m [Russian] children are undergoing treatment. Ask any mother: if she has three children, she will feed one and tell the others to wait.
For this reason, instead of explaining the situation we are proposing a specific way out of this abnormal situation. There are many programmes, altogether 11 federal programmes. How are they operating? Why do we not look at the social consequences of each programme? Why aren't we counting our losses?
Therefore, there are two ways of changing the situation: preventive and punitive ones. The law-enforcement agencies are dealing with this matter and I have already mentioned the 120,000 children who receive conditional sentences every year.
Most importantly, every child personally needs an adult. If the parents, because of some circumstances, do not wish to look after their own child, we and you should block criminals and drug dealers who have opened an insolent and open hunt on our children."
The Guardian (UK)
29 May 2000
[for personal use only]
BACK TO THE USSR: VLADIMIR PUTIN WAS OFFICIALLY INAUGURATED ONLY
THREE WEEKS AGO. BUT ALREADY HE SEEMS TO BE LEADING RUSSIA DOWN
THE FAMILIAR ROAD TO TOTALITARIANISM.
BY AMELIA GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW
In the final hours of the last millennium not long after news of Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation had been broadcast to the world Vladimir Putin found time to sit down at his Kremlin desk to start work on his vision of a new Russia.
One of the first decrees to be signed that night by the novice acting president ordered the resurrection of compulsory military training for all Russian pupils forcing every Russian schoolboy to supplement his studies of Dostoevsky and algebra with a detailed understanding of how to load and fire a Kalashnikov. Under this edict, from September, teachers will be obliged to hold classes explaining the historical significance and current strength of the Russian army.
At the end of the summer term, every boy aged between 15 and 16 will be subjected to 40 hours intensive military instruction. Here he will learn army tactics, basic weapon handling and how to stride in synchronised unison across the training field.
With these parades, Russia is marching back into the past. Under Josef Stalin, similar classes were used to remind every school child that the Soviet Union was surrounded by an imperialist enemy, poised to attack. But military training for schoolchildren was outlawed nine years ago, in one of Yeltsin's first reforming measures as he stripped away the symbolic baggage of Soviet society.
'This represents a step backwards to a militarised Soviet state. These training classes will have almost no practical use but they are hugely significant from a psychological point of view,' human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov said. 'It is a clear attempt to manipulate the mood of society and just one of many instances of the increasing militarisation of society under Putin.'
The announcement of these training classes unleashed a subtle taste of neo-authoritarianism in Putin's new-look Russia. This is a flavour that began to emerge with the appointment of the former KGB colonel as prime minister last August, which is becoming more powerful with every week that he presides over the Kremlin.
Again and again as he takes his first steps in political life, Putin has made a show of drawing on nostalgic themes from Russia's totalitarian past. He has made no secret of his fondness for the KGB, where he spent 16 years, and has paid tribute to those who presided over the security force's harshest clampdowns on Russia's dissident society.
Last year, he restored a plaque to former president and KGB leader Yury Andropov on the walls of the Lubyanka (ripped down with the reforms of the 90s). Recently, he unveiled another plaque honouring Russia's war heroes with Stalin's name listed first. A commemorative coin decorated with Stalin's face has been issued and there are plans to install a new bust of the Soviet tyrant at Russia's main war memorial.
Putin is a modern politician acutely sensitive to image and presentation and these symbolic tributes to authoritarianism are made for calculated effect. The chaos and humiliations of Russia's decade of reforms left the population with a thirst for a strong leader capable of imposing order. Putin shrewdly built his appeal around a promise to restore stability, promising to crack down on corruption, crime and economic disarray.
But Russia's liberals horrified by the country's new iconography are wondering what else he plans to subject to a crackdown, anxious to establish whether this authoritarian streak runs deeper than mere symbolism.
When a band of former Soviet dissidents declared in February that Putinism was nothing short of modernised Stalinism, they were widely dismissed as hysterical prophets of doom. 'Authoritarianism is growing harsher, society is being militarised, the military budget is increasing,' they warned, before calling on the West to 're-examine its attitude towards the Kremlin leadership, to cease indulging it in its barbaric actions, its dismantlement of democracy and suppression of human rights.'
In the light of Putin's actions during his first days in power, their warnings have gained an uneasy new resonance.
Putin's first steps his structural political reforms, his government's handling of the press, his attitude towards democratic freedoms all seem to indicate a step away from Russia's nascent democracy in a more repressive direction.
It is now three weeks since he was officially inaugurated and already his much-scrutinised enigma appears to be fading. While he has yet to announce any coherent plans to reinvigorate Russia's economy, or to improve life for its impoverished population a third of whom live beneath the official poverty line the new president has already set an apparently authoritarian seal on the future style of government.
It looks probable that his liberal inclinations, which he made much of to selected audiences before his election, will be restricted to economic reforms rather than to guiding his broader political aspirations.
Determined to grab power back from the country's rebellious regions, last week Putin carved up Russia into seven slices and appointed seven new presidential representatives.
These appointments are a stark portent of the future. Responsibility for Russia's north-western districts was entrusted to the sinister figure of Victor Cherkesov deputy director of the FSB, the reorganised KGB a man feared and hated by Russia's liberal population. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cherkesov was responsible for surveillance of the media and trade unions and enthusiastically pursued intellectual opponents of the Soviet regime.
The country's central region was given to another former KGB apparatchik, General Georgy Poltavchenko, while the Urals region was handed to a senior figure in the police force, General Pyotr Latyshev. The Caucasus region where Russia's brutal war against Chechen rebels drags on was allocated to one of the toughest generals behind the campaign, General Viktor Kazantsev, the man jointly responsible for the thousands of civilian deaths in the region. Only two of the seven districts are to be headed by civilian figures.
This elevation of former KGB men to important government positions continues a trend started last autumn. And a further hint of the role old KGB tactics could play in Putin's new Russia emerged this month with the publication of a leaked Kremlin strategy document, advising Putin to establish a new FSB-run 'presidential political directorate' to strengthen the president's power.
The body would gather dirt on opposition figures, and would whip the press into submission. 'Opposition media should be driven to financial crisis, their licences and certificates withdrawn and conditions created where the work of every single opposition medium is either controllable or impossible,' the document stated.
A media crackdown is already well under way. Ten days ago, more than 2,000 people including the leading lights of Russia's media elite gathered in central Moscow to protest against severe press restrictions exerted under Putin.
'It has become hard for journalists to breathe,' the editor of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets declared.
The mysterious, spurious tax raid on MediaMost, Russia's largest inde pendent media empire which has been consistently critical of Putin's new regime precipitated the final surge of alarm.
In the clear daylight of a cold May afternoon just four days after Putin's inauguration some 40 machine gun-wielding government security agents in black balaclavas and camouflage gear stormed their way into MediaMost's Moscow offices. The paramilitaries left several hours later, confiscating tapes and transcripts. Journalists working for MediaMost's leading daily newspaper, Sevodnya, and its popular television station, NTV, saw the attack as an attempt to intimidate their dissenting voices into conformity.
Sevodnya's editor, Mikhail Berger, said that Putin's approach towards the press was strongly reminiscent of the Soviet era. 'Putin has divided the media into two categories those organisations that give him total, utter, unquestioning support and those that don't. He views the latter not simply as papers or television companies, but as enemy units which he has to fight,' he said.
'Under the Soviet Union, everything was categorised either as Soviet or anti-Soviet. Now under Putin, everything is either state or anti-state. MediaMost has been repeatedly accused by the Kremlin of having an 'anti-state' position. In terms of press freedoms, I think we could see a swift return to the Soviet Union, not just to the 70s, but the 40s under Stalin.'
Protesters returned to the streets last Friday to campaign against the forced sale of the broadcast licence of another television company, TV Centre, which has been consistently critical of the Kremlin.
This drive to stifle Russia's newly independent media began last autumn. Putin was determined to crack down on press coverage of his battle in Chechnya to avoid the critical reports (and resulting public disillusionment) which plagued the government during the last war.
More troubling still is the role Russia's state-controlled media played in helping Putin ascend to power. Brazen manipulation of Russia's two nationwide television stations (with the collusion of their part-owner, Russia's oligarch supremo Boris Berezovsky) led to the political destruction of Putin's two serious presidential rivals Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. In a vicious smear campaign, prime-time broadcasts portrayed Luzhkov as a corrupt murderer, and Primakov as a frail has-been. Putin's own ratings soared from 2% to 53%.
Meanwhile, the same television stations, ORT and RTR, helped promote a new pro-Putin political grouping Unity, also known as Medved, the Bear. Like Putin, the faction rose to victory from nowhere, without ever pausing to detail its political intentions. Gradually, in the months since the election, Russia has seen its once-strong political opposition melt away, with even the once- intractable communists ready to compromise with the new order.
A deeper unease lurks in the minds of those dismayed by the neo-Soviet tendencies in Putin's new Russia overshadowing everything else by its potential monstrosity. The memory of the unresolved September spate of apartment block bombings continues to unnerve those who question the official line that the attacks were orchestrated by Chechen terrorists.
The theory that the horrific attacks in which almost 200 civilians were crushed to death could have been an FSB ploy designed to drum up support for the Chechen war and thus aid the elevation of Putin to power, continues to be debated, although there is no more evidence for this version of events than for the terrorist scenario.
'Even thinking about the bombings chills my heart,' Ludmila Alexeeva, president of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said. 'I only know one thing it was extremely unlikely to have been done by the Chechens; it just wasn't in their interests.'
Despite this oppressive multitude of foreboding signals, a sense of perspective has to be maintained. Although harassed, Russia's press remains at liberty to continue criticising the government; while Stalinist symbols have been resurrected, there is no evidence of any return to the horrors of Stalinist oppression.
And even the extent of Putin's own power to indulge his authoritarian inclinations is still unknown. Eased into the Kremlin with the assistance of powerful behind-the-scenes tycoons from Yeltsin's camp, Putin remains at their mercy.
Since his debut on the political arena, Putin has struggled to play to conflicting audiences presenting himself as liberal reformer to the West, as the firm hand of law and order to his own people and as the preserver of continuity to the forces who helped him into power. It is conceivable that his recent actions were designed primarily for domestic consumption and could later be supplemented by a more liberal programme, when his administration finally resolves which direction Russia should take. Alongside the KGB heavies and the powerful businessmen who surround Putin, a small group of liberals remain who have yet to prove how much influence they can wield.
'I still have no idea whether Putin wants to reintroduce Stalinism or go in the direction of democracy because if you listen to him, he says first one thing and then the other,' Alexeeva said. 'I don't think it's simply that we don't know what he stands for, I think he doesn't know either.'
RUSSIAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN WARNS OF DANGER OF TOTALITARIANISM
Source: `Segodnya', Moscow, in Russian 23 May 00
Russian human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov said he was astounded and alarmed by recent developments and warned Russia could "backslide from democracy to totalitarianism". Interviewed by the Russian newspaper 'Segodnya', Mironov criticized the armed raids on the Media-Most offices and the more assertive attitude of the law-enforcement agencies. He said he was surprised that he had not managed to have a meeting with President Putin yet. He told the newspaper that "all groups of rights" are currently violated in Russia. The following are excerpts from the newspaper report published on 23rd May:
The Russian institution of commissioner for human rights became two years old yesterday. The interview that [commissioner] Oleg Mironov gave to `Segodnya' correspondent Valeriya Sycheva on the eve of the anniversary makes the impression that the commissioner does not have many reasons for joy at this point.
[Correspondent] Oleg Orestovich, we can hear opinions both in Russia and in other countries that the accelerated strengthening of state power has a bad impact on human rights in Russia. In particular, people are talking about Chechnya and problems experienced by independent mass media.
[Mironov] I am for a strong state operating within the limits of law. Only this kind of state is capable of ensuring human rights. A strong but a police and totalitarian type of state has nothing to do with democratic principles. In Russia, all groups of rights known to the international community - economic, social, cultural, civil, and political - are violated.
[Q] What relations do you, the main Russian human rights defender, have with the president, the guarantor of constitutional rights and freedoms? As far as I know, you have not yet managed to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin. I remember Boris Yeltsin received you almost on the following day after your appointment.
[A] Of course, we can wonder why the president meets the deputies and ministers and has not set a meeting with the commissioner yet. I explain it by the fact that he assumed office only recently.
Of course, cooperation is not limited to personal contacts, but I would very much like to meet the president personally. I hope that he has a schedule for such meetings and that we will establish very good businesslike relations...
[Q] One can have the impression, however, that the new power has no desire to listen firm opinions about itself.
[Mironov] I would not like this to become a tendency. Of course, there are mistakes and miscalculations. It is widely known that an obliging fool is worse than an enemy. For example, who really needed to confiscate documents from Media-Most's buildings in such an ostentatious manner [reference to raid by armed tax police on 11th May]? Those are huge buildings in the city's centre with many people, not only the employees of that organization. They were detained for several hours and searched. I am generally against such militarized operations. After all, the operatives from power structures did not capture terrorists or armed bandits posing a threat to life and health of Moscow residents. By the way, it is more correct to call them law-enforcement agencies, but this term is beginning to become obsolete now. But if you are called "power structures", you should fight terrorists and bandits instead of public organizations. You can open criminal cases if you have the sufficient amount of evidence. You can confiscate documents. But why the camouflage uniforms, masks, assault rifles, and handcuffs? At present, people are afraid to approach a policeman - this service has become very tough. But it should be tough only to bandits, terrorists, and criminals. The structures designated to protect people flagrantly and, unfortunately, regularly violate human rights. Attempts to put forcible pressure are incompatible with a modern concept of democratic society. Nothing like that happens in the civilized world and we must not tolerate it. This is what the guarantor of human rights and freedoms, the president, exists for. I hope that those actions will be assessed appropriately.
All those things astound and alarm me. The institution of commissioner, the press, and dozens of human rights organizations exist specifically to apply to authorities. We should appeal to them: do not cross a certain line, otherwise you will trigger qualitative changes and we will backslide from democracy to totalitarianism.
Putin faces high hopes of European Union officials
By Elizabeth Piper
MOSCOW, May 29 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin, keen to
capitalise on the West's renewed goodwill, meets European Union officials on
Monday at a summit which kicks off a round of high profile meetings with
Western leaders. The EU officials have offered an olive branch by expressing
a desire that the main source of tension -- Russia's military assault in
Chechnya -- will not dominate the talks. European Commission President Romano
Prodi, EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana and other officials arrived in
Moscow on Sunday, saying the one-day summit was a chance to strengthen ties
and get to know Putin, a former KGB spy, better.
Putin will welcome U.S. President Bill Clinton at the weekend and he has
plans to go to Rome and Berlin soon.
``The summit has equally great significance for the European Union and
Russia...Moscow and the European Union are becoming key economic partners,''
Prodi said on his arrival in Moscow.
Prodi told reporters that Chechnya would be raised in the talks, but Russia's
eight-month offensive against what it calls ``terrorists'' in the breakaway
province would not be the main focus of the summit.
Russia has allowed EU officials to visit the region but the EU wants an
independent inquiry into alleged human rights abuses and more access to
The overriding sentiment seems to be to avoid pushing Putin into a corner as
EU officials say they believe he offers a chance to improve relations with
Moscow despite the war.
TALKS LIKELY TO FOCUS ON ECONOMIC REFORM
The talks are likely to focus above all on how Putin intends to reform
Russia's rickety economy.
Prodi will also meet leading Russian businessmen at a time when the economy
has been experiencing an upturn, underpinned by high prices for Russia's oil
Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, whose country holds the EU's
rotating presidency, said it was time for partnership with the former Cold
``Our visit to Moscow and the summit in the Kremlin gives us the possibility
not only to personally get to know Russian President Vladimir Putin but also
to strengthen ties between the European Union and Russia,'' Itar-Tass news
agency quoted Guterres as saying in Moscow.
``(Such ties) are very important for all Europe,'' he said.
The summit will be a test run for Putin's upcoming meeting with Clinton, when
little movement is expected on arms control.
``We hope that the European Union portfolio contains constructive ideas, not
only the Chechen files,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov was quoted by
Interfax news agency as saying over the weekend.
The Times (UK)
May 29 2000
[for personal use only]
Archive shows Putin blunder as spymaster
FROM GILES WHITTELL IN MOSCOW
PRESIDENT PUTIN'S last assignment as a spy in East Germany ended in
catastrophe, according to a German official whose account of the affair is
strikingly at odds with Mr Putin's own recollections.
In an awkward disclosure days before the Russian leader's first summit with
President Clinton, a German government archivist has claimed that Mr Putin
was ordered to set up a spy ring to gather intelligence on West Germany after
the fall of the Berlin Wall. He did, but the man he recruited to run it
allegedly defected two months later and wrecked the project.
Mr Putin's chief recruit, from East Germany's feared secret police, the
Stasi, revealed the entire plan to West German counter-intelligence who then
swiftly located everyone else involved, according to Johannes Legner of the
German government agency that maintains the Stasi's archives.
Herr Legner added: "If you choose the wrong person as the central figure of a
network and this person defects, that's a catastrophe. Any case officer in
London or Washington would get a lot of problems for doing this."
It is well known that Mr Putin spent 15 years in the KGB, five of them as a
recruiter of East German and Western informers in Dresden. It is also no
secret that the future President was not so much a super-spy as a dutiful
second-rank plodder who happened to speak good German. This is the first
suggestion that he botched an important assignment, however.
Mr Putin has said little about his KGB work or why, in 1990, he abruptly left
the agency he had longed to work for since the age of 16 for a lowly job at a
St Petersburg university.
Mr Legner speculated last week that "Putin had to get out of Germany because
this network was uncovered".
Since taking power the Russian leader has confirmed that German intelligence
has a full dossier on his activities in Dresden in the late 1980s. This is no
surprise, given that the then East German Government knew he was with the KGB
and gave him official housing. But he has strenuously denied allowing the
cover of any of his agents to be blown in the chaos of late 1989 as Germany
moved towards unification and the Stasi and KGB became objects of public
"We destroyed everything, all our links, contacts, all our agents' networks,"
Mr Putin said in a book of interviews he gave to three Russian journalists in
March. "I personally burnt a huge number of materials. We burnt so much that
the stove broke." He made no mention of setting up a new spy ring, nor seeing
Mr Putin's choice of spying as a career has so far not been allowed to sour
Russia's relations with the West, but the notion that he was simply not good
at it may do more harm to his image of a man of competence and action.
The Russia Journal
May 29-June 4, 2000
Putinís shakeup relies on security forces
Not all are linked to Russiaís oligarchs Ė or to the Family
By Col. Vladimir Mukhin, military correspondent for Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
President Vladimir Putin has announced his new government. There were no sensations, and most government leaders remained in their posts.
This was especially apparent in the heads of the armed forces. Apart from the Federal Protection Service and the External Intelligence Service, almost all heads of ministries and departments in some way connected with defense and security stayed on.
Most observers ascribed this to Putinís supposed weakness or to the residual influence of oligarchs or the "Family." But such conclusions are not completely justified.
Putin is only now beginning to create his role of head of state. He was head of the government for a relatively short time and has not yet formed his own team. The leaders under Boris Yeltsin, including the armed forces heads, showed they were able. Why should Putin fix something that is working?
Putin is also under some pressure from oligarchs and the Family. This is unavoidable because it was Yeltsin who named Putin as his successor. For the first time in Russian history, power was transferred from one leader to another by a legitimate democratic process.
Putin is following the established line because he owes it to Yeltsin to do so. As a responsible and flexible person and as a politician he listens to what the Family says, and there is nothing criminal about that.
But it would not be fair to say that the majority of the newly appointed heads of the security ministries are proteges of oligarchs or the Family. One of the first things Putin did when he became acting president was to meet with heads of the security ministries every Monday. This was in response to the situation in the North Caucasus.
In working with Ministers Igor Sergeyev (defense), Vladimir Rushailo (internal affairs) and Sergei Shoigu (emergency situations) and traveling with them to the Caucasus, Putin had time to see their professionalism and commitment.
All the generals and forces have shown commitment to Putin. Experts have associated this with Putinís position on Chechnya. On all humanitarian matters, including refugees and the need to negotiate with rebels, Putin publicly sided with the Army.
Analysts have singled out Army Chief of Staff Gen. Anatoly Kvashin as being especially trusted by the Kremlin. There was talk that he would take Sergeyevís place. The reasons given were that Kvashin is an operations officer who organized two Chechen campaigns and that he is relatively young. Unlike Sergeev who always worked with strategic missile forces, he has a general military education, useful for operational leadership of the armed forces. But still Kvashin was not appointed minister.
Apart from his military abilities, the minister of defense must also be a politician. Sergeyev is second to none in this area, according to experts. He convinced the State Duma to ratify the START-II treaty and prohibit nuclear weapons tests.
Sergeyev accompanied Putin on most of his trips abroad and visited regions and fleets with him. Sergeyev gave instructions for voting to be organized in the Defense and Interior Ministries during the presidential elections. Most of their personnel (65-90 percent) supported Putin, and this also may have persuaded him to keep Sergeyev in his post.
Putinís main policy line is to rely on the security ministries. He intends to restructure Russia quickly and radically. He knows his security ministers and has included them in the new government. He will use them to help fight separatism in the regions. Putin has proven himself as a decisive leader by his decree creating seven federal regions and his choice of envoys, five out of seven of whom are from the intelligence services, Interior Ministry and the Army.
These measures alone, however, will not reinforce the country. The basis of stability and state development is the economy. Putinís moves so far have only been political. The Chechen war is still consuming vast resources not foreseen in the budget.
Only the primary budget surplus has allowed funding of the war. A deepening of the crisis is still possible. It is like the Soviet Union in the last years of Mikhail Gorbachevís rule, when representatives of the republics and the central power divided up power without considering economics. That was when the U.S.S.R. fell apart. Will Russia suffer the same fate?
Date: Sun, 28 May 2000
From: Ed Crane <email@example.com>
Subject: Jacob Kipp on the Putin Question
Thanks to Kipp for Addressing the Putin/Lincoln comparison on its merits and implications. I hope there will be more such efforts to find a productive basis for assessing Putin, in real historical terms!
A small correction, I did not mention the KGB connection, and in fact I see plenty of direct evidence for concern, in Putin's actions, his undemocratic methods of control and influence. Again, separating the issue of his background, what are his real options? In the case of media interventions, there are very real and preferrable alternatives. The federalism strategy is more open to debate...
From: Lozansky@aol.com (Edward Lozansky
Date: Sat, 27 May 2000
Subject: Invitation to a Concert at Russia House in Washington
You are invited to a Concert on Friday, June 2 at 8.00 pm at the Russia
House 1800 Connecticut Avenue, NW Metro Red Line "Dupont Circle" followed by
the elegant reception.
Program features an outstanding pianist, composer and poet Lera Auerbach - a
young Russian genius who is quickly winning the hearts and minds of classic
music and poetry lovers throughout the world.
Miss Auerbach will perform the works of Rachmaninov as well as her own
compositions and read some poetry.
This is what Vladimir Horowitz's biographer David Dubal wrote about Miss
Auerbach: " I have been in a constant state of amazement at her actual
genius. She is a young woman who is part of the great humanistic tradition.
She is a Poly-Artist, one that is more needed than ever in our skeptical
"A Pianistic Powerhouse‚Ä¶a fine balance of sensitivity and virtuosity."
Joseph McLellan, Washington Post
Entrance fee $10. Tickets which include after-concert reception $25.
For reservations call 202-986-6010 or send e-mail to Russia@RussiaHouse.org
From: "andrew miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The Gathering Storm
Date: Sun, 28 May 2000
Topic: The Gathering Storm
Title: The Oblast of Russia?
I predicted in JRL 4100 (February 10, 2000) that Yabloko's candidate for governor in St. Petersburg, Igor Artymev, would be utterly annihilated by incumbent Vladimir Yakovlev in the May 14 ballot (this although Yakovlev was himself the rival of widly popular president Vladimir Putin only a few months ago and is the constant target of expose journalism in local and national Kremlin-controlled media based on alleged ties to organized crime, and the fact that Piter is Yabloko's home turf).
In the event on May 14, Yakovlev racked up a massive landslide victory (polling 75% of the votes cast for a total of around 1.2 million in a city with well under 4 million eligible voters, to Artymev's piteous 15%). It may now be fairly said that May 14 was the day when the tattered remains of liberalism in Russia, in the person of its sole serious proponent Grigori Yavlinsky (Yabloko's founder and namesake) were (figuratively) laid to rest in apauper's unmarked grave. Few, I can attest, turned to watch (figuratively) the coffin pass. Far more turned out on May 9 to celebrate the Soviet holiday in Lubyanka Square by listening to a speech from Soviet apparachick Gennady Zyuganov. I know. I was there.
Earlier, in the JRL, I had predicted that Russia would, in free and fair elections, turn its back on on liberalism and its craven face towrd the gloomy but apparently comforting authoritarianism of the past - a cruel regime that bankrupted the nation with a ridiculous and unnecessary arms race it could not afford, and deprived it of its best and brighest either by driving them away or actually killing them - Stalin, of course, killed far more Russians than did Hitler, who killed at random while Stalin willfully selected the clever and creative for oblivion - Russia is still waging war it can't afford and still driving away its best and brightest).
In the event, after handing former (and who is to say not current) KRB spy Putin a 20% landslide margin of victory in the presidental elections and Communist apparachik Zyuganov most of the other votes together with a continuing plurality in the federal legislature (the speaker is a Communist, Gennady Seleznyov), last week we saw the newly constituted government begin to implement the people's will (or was that People's Will) with startling alacrity.
Last week, Putin's regime carried out a military-style raid on the only significant opposition television station, Media-MOST (albeit that only a tiny fraction of all Russians can receive it's NTV flagship station and fewer still actually watch it) and put the company's bank into receivership. Simultaneously, by exective fiat, it sought to redraw the boundaries of the supposedly quasi-independent states whose purpose was to limit the power of the center under the constitution (which, incidentally, they didn't amend). De facto (and perhaps in Russia now this is the same as de jure), more than eighty states have now been reduced to a handful of administrative districts lorded over by KGB functionaries and military men handpicked by Putin. Showing his true colors, alleged liberal and former PM Sergei Kirienko accepted one of those overlord positions as, apparently, the token non-Fascist. Here in St. Petersburg, a ruthless KGB strongman was put in charge. This will all, undoubtedly, be quite excellent for Russia's prestige to say nothing of its economy, and I for one am eminently optimistic: The new supergubernator dogged the footsteps of the actual governor over the holiday weekend, conspicuously so (last weekend was City Day in Piter).
Chew on that a while and then, committed Russia watcher, what do you make of this: Last Wednesday (May 17) there were two protests against state attacks on private TV stations: one in Belgrade, Serbia where (perhaps coincidentally Slavic) dictator Slobodan Milosevic had assaulted an opposition TV station (neither the assault nor the protest was covered by state-owned and Putin-controlled RTR or ORT television) and one in Moscow over the Media-MOST. In Belgrade, protesters had every reason to expect to be met with brutal violence from the Gestapo-like police (and in fact in the event Serbian police charged the crowd and inflicted many injuries with their batons). No such thing has happened in Russia (not yet, anyway). Therefore, one might have expected a lower turnout in Serbia - to say nothing of the fact that its population is less than one fifteenth that of Russia.
2,000 Russians hit the streets to listen to Grigori Yavlinsky (among others) say that Mr. Putin might be making a mistake. In Belgrade there were 30,000. For those who are counting, that's fifteen times more protesters in a country with fifteen times fewer people. The math is beyond me, but I think somewhere in there is an interesting quotient. But then Serbians, I suppose, are better known for their liberalism than are Russians. Or at least getting to be.
May 17 was then, it might be said, the wake for liberalism in Russia. Its only serious pretender, Yavlinsky, had been crushed utterly here in his home town over a year ago when his party was out-polled two-to-one by that of rival Bloc of Yuri Boldyrev, formed by Yabloko defector Yuri Boldyrev just to spite Yavlinsky's monumental hubris and sloth. Yavlinsky's party, and liberalism itself, was then cruelly dismembered in the federal parliamentary elections by the withering fire of state-owned TV and the withering indifference of the polity and the withering incomptetence and cowardice that has become his trademark. Yavlinsky was finally hoist with his own petard in the presidential ballot, which left him twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.
Accused by The St. Petersburg Times in a pre-election JRL of electoral fraud (the age old foundation of Russia apologism) without a shred of independent evidence or single followup story to date, in St. Petersburg last week even if one of every two votes for Yakovlev had been fraudulent (but international observers called the elections clean) he would still have polled twice as much support as Yabloko, whose anemic 250,000 votes in support of Yavlinsky's hapless proxy were poetic testiment to the end of an era that never was. A true chip off the old blockhead, all Artymev could do in response to the final tally was to wimper and threaten to sue.
It can't be gainsaid now that the Russia-watching community failed to anticipate the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917, and then failed to anticipate their danger. We then failed to anticipate their bankruptcy and implosion in 1990, and then failed to antcipate the similar implosion of the Yeltsin regime. Therefore, Western policy toward Russia has been an unrelenting series of failures both for the West and for the Russian people. When America declared victory in 1776, it forgot that it hadn't actually disposed of the British, who came back with a vengeance in 1812. When the West declared victory in the Cold War, what did it think the 100,000 or more ranking KGB officers and the greater number of Soviet-educated teachers were going to do? Just disappear? Undergo a mystical, magical, metamorphosis? Apparently this did not occur.
Would things have been different if outside observers had, for example, seen Yavlinsky for what he was (that is, nothing), and had demanded something better before it was far too late instead of blindly throwing piles of money and blithely/blindly singing his praises simply on the ground that he didn't appear to be fully psychotic and managed to mouth a few attractive phrases? It's possible at least, isn't it? Will the Russia-watching community anticipate Putin, or at least see Putin, or are we doomed to repeat what we cannot remember? As someone who lives in Russia and will actually have to face the music that the Russia-watching community plays, I must say I find the implaccable insistance that Russia is a nation of innocent victims who need love and understanding and time to overcome a small band of misguided leaders to be most disheartening. I hope I don't end up in jail because of it.
The attitude of many Russia-watchers, and especially of many policy makers, is that of the enabler. Any substance abuse counsellor will tell you (Russia is an addict nation, addicted to lies and autocratic violence and sloth as surely as any user to any narcotic) that enablers kill addicts more surely than drugs. Addicts can be saved, they will tell you, only by allowing them (indeed, sometimes by forcing them) to hit bottom and then sink or swim. Only then do they truly come to know themselves, to see themselves, and only then is change possible. You who will not allow Russia to hit bottom (and therefore give it money and tell it lies) think you are being compassionate, but that kind of compassion is the worst form of cruetly.
Retrodiction: Had Vladimir Putin lost to Gennady Zyuganov, he would not have surrendered power to him.
New predictions: Vladimir Putin will not leave power in 2004 or 2008 no matter the results of any election. He will die in office like Brezhnev unless he is ousted like Krushchev in favor of someone like Brezhnev. Within five years, there will be no independent media in Russia (as if there is any now, but according to a recent New York Times editorial in the JRL, there is, so I guess there must be; just wish The Times had told me which kiosk to look in . . .). Within five years, Russia will absorb Belarus and Georgia (a revised constitution will eliminate the two-term limit for presidents; even if this is not done, Russians will reelect, as that term will come to be defined, Putin as many times as he likes notwithstanding the constitution). Russia will not allow Ukraine to join NATO or the EU and may, within 10 years, forcibly reincorporate Ukraine into the Russia fold if it can substantially improve its military during that time, which it will be able to do only should Western or Asian nations resume lending it piles of cash. In any case, it will do anything it can to prevent such a thing.
Look! Up in the sky! It's a ptitsa! It's a MiG! No, it's supergubernator! Within five years, the new supergovernors will have consolidated their power and obliterated the existing concept of federalsim. Within ten years, the supergovernors will have themselves been consolidated into a single new oblast, called Russia.
Putin, of course, had been planning to implement his super-governor regime for quite some time (or at least one hopes it was not spontaneous). Yet, he did not mention it during his campaign for president. Conveniently, nobody asked him about it then, and nobody is saying anything now. According to what passes for logic in the Kremlin now, telling the people what you plan for the future, debates, political advertising, these are all dirty aspects of what might be called capitalist propaganda in politics, aspects which from which Putin has bravely managed to free a grateful nation.
Within twenty years, Russia will make Yugoslavia today look like paradise lost.
A REUTERS news story last week claimed that the recent drop of 50,000 barrels of oil consumption per day in Russia was a good thing because it resulted from the closure of unprofitable enterprises rather than economic weakness. By this truly bizarre logic, of course, it would be good for Russia if GAZPROM closed down (the company posted a loss in the last quarter of 1999) and one would like to ask REUTERS which manufacturing enterprises in Russia ARE profitable, and if none whether it would be a good thing should Russia's oil consumption dropped to zero.
St. Petersburg, Russia
28 May 2000
[for personal use only]
Fees for Eternity
By Daniel Williams
ST. PETERSBURG-According to the official price list, you can be buried at
Krasnenskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg for about $35.
But don't bet your life on it. Gravediggers hanging around the entrance the
other day were quick to point out that it's crowded in there, what with all
the Heroes of Labor and former Communist Party officials laid to rest.
So, it is necessary to pay more: $1,500, say, for a spot that visitors don't
have to step over jumbled tombstones to reach. Maybe somewhere near the path,
grave marker not included.
The price difference, St. Petersburg officials and local gunmen say, has less
to do with supply and demand than with control of city cemeteries by
organized crime. Gangsters reap the excess profits, in the form of markups
and bribes, estimated by a local newspaper to total $7 million a year.
In St. Petersburg, that's no surprise to local residents. Here in Russia's
second largest city, criminal groups dominate or fight over businesses
ranging from gasoline supplies and real estate to timber milling and parts of
One result has been a wave of professional killings carried out by gangs
seeking to expand their market share. Since the beginning of the year, 17
deaths in St. Petersburg have been classified as contract
killings--professional hits on rival gangsters or on legitimate businessmen
trying to operate independently. Since 1997, 200 deaths have been labeled
killings for hire.
Other costs to St. Petersburg are economic and symbolic. St. Petersburg's
position on the Baltic Sea, which is bordered by such prosperous countries as
Sweden and Germany, ought to have restored the city's original role as
Russia's window to modernity and the West. Instead, it's the Wild West.
The wide open nature of the problems would seem to make the city ripe for an
anti-crime crusade promised repeatedly by Russia's new president, Vladimir
Putin, a St. Petersburg native. But during Putin's more than nine months in
Russia's two top jobs--first as prime minister, and since January, as
president--crime has marched on unabated and unpunished.
This spring, Putin seemed ready to take a direct hand in cleaning up St.
Petersburg. He promoted Valentina Matviyenko, a political associate, as a
candidate for mayor. But suddenly, in April, Putin told her to withdraw,
paving the way for victory this month by Vladimir Yakovlev, the incumbent
under whom crime has flourished. One of Yakovlev's city assembly allies is in
jail on suspicion of running a murder-for-hire ring. Another pair is under
investigation for embezzlement. Yakovlev called the idea of St. Petersburg as
Russia's crime capital "nonsense."
In any event, given Putin's tough-guy self-image, his lack of action in
promoting change in St. Petersburg is striking. There certainly are reasons
enough for a crackdown. Nothing is hidden. The main characteristic of crime
in St. Petersburg is brazenness.
Consider the recent mayhem. In late April, Georgy Pozdyakov, a nightclub
owner, was gunned down after working out at a fitness center. He was a friend
of Pavel Kapysh, oil dealer and financier, blown up by rocket-propelled
grenades last July while motoring on Vasilevsky Island, a St. Petersburg
Oil has been a particularly bloody battleground as gangs fought over the
right to play middlemen in supplying the city. The business is in the hands
of the Tambov organized crime group, according to St. Petersburg newspapers.
In the past three years, assassins have killed the head of a bank with oil
holdings, a vice president of a Finnish company that owns gas stations in St.
Petersburg and another bank executive with oil connections, according to
This year's toll also includes a home appliance and car dealer, shot dead at
his daughter's house; a sewing thread manufacturer, killed when he stopped
his car at a traffic light; three lumber mill operators killed in their
vehicles; and a beer factory director.
Politicians are not immune. Last year, a city assemblyman was decapitated
when a killer ran up to his stopped car and placed a bomb on the roof. He had
been planning to testify about high-level corruption in city hall. In
November 1998, a pair of assassins ambushed Galina Starovoitova, a respected
member of parliament and human rights advocate, on her doorstep. The year
before, a sniper killed the city government's privatization chief, Mikhail
Manevich, who tried to rein in real estate giveaways.
All these crimes remain unsolved, although one municipal legislator was
arrested and accused of masterminding seven contract killings.
In 1998, the cemetery business claimed a prominent civil servant: the deputy
director of the city's Consumer Market Committee, Yevgeny Agaryov. The
committee, which is in charge of regulating cemeteries, sets the official
prices for burials. Agaryov was killed while drafting legislation to tighten
Ask Russian citizens about their burial experiences, and they tell
depressingly similar tales. One woman who recently paid for the funeral of a
destitute friend said she gave $1,200 up front. The charge was supposed to
cover everything. But then, extra fees were levied: to prepare the body; to
make sure the grave was dug on time; to make sure a proper coffin was
available. "They know full well that people are most vulnerable at this time.
No one complains," the woman said. "And if I went to the authorities, it
would mean leaving the dead unburied while I argued . . . for what? And for
how long? People just pay up."
St. Petersburg newspapers say that an organized crime group called the Kazan
gang, named for its origins in that provincial city, controls the cemeteries,
which are nominally municipal property. The Kazan gang pushed out rivals 18
months ago. The man allegedly in charge of the funeral business is Vladimir
Korolyov, a former city morgue employee who created his own "ritual services"
company in the early 1990s. His nickname is Father Funeral. (Colorful
nicknames are a St. Petersburg mob specialty; a previous kingpin in the
cemetery business was called Kostya the Grave.)
The city government has pledged repeatedly to reconquer the cemeteries. Last
November, the municipal assembly passed a law forbidding the privatization of
cemeteries, but it has had little effect.
Konstantin Serov, a city legislator, acknowledged dryly that municipal
cemeteries hang in a lawless limbo. "Of course, every process has its dark
side," said Serov, a Yakovlev ally. "Lots of private interests, including
criminals, want to own the cemeteries. But we won't allow it."
Theoretically, the new law makes it permissible to fire cemetery
administrators or workers who charge extra for services. Enforcement rests
with the Consumer Market Committee.
Over at that office, despite the need for a receptionist to wear a flak
jacket, officials insist there is no problem. "Newspapers simply make up
stories about cemeteries. Everything is under control. That's all," said
Sergei Morgunov, an official in the funerals service division.
A young gunman taking tea at the Astoria Hotel was more relaxed as he
explained the basic origins of the recent shooting spree: "Some people need
lessons about trying to operate independently."
Aren't there other ways to send these messages? "In Russia," he said, "we say
you need to study hard to get ahead."
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