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Johnson's Russia List
16 July 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
DJ: If there are brief gaps in JRL production over the next
few weeks, don't be alarmed. It is summertime afterall.
1. AP: Russia Journalist Dies After Beating.
2. Los Angeles Times: Robyn Dixon, Russians Dying--Literally--
for Favorite Fungi. It's mushroom-picking season, and this year
dozens have died after eating a poisonous variety. Overconfidence
among the harvesters is a factor, authorities say.
3. The Russia Journal: Tatyana Matsuk, O, Russia! Why do you
steal so much?
4. Reuters: Putin's Asia tour to boost Russian role in region.
5. Izvestia: PUTIN SAYS NO THREAT OF POLICE STATE. (Text of
Russia Journalist Dies After Beating
July 16, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - A journalist working for a muckraking Moscow newspaper who was
beaten by an unknown attacker in May has died, his newspaper said Sunday.
Igor Domnikov, who worked for Novaya Gazeta, was beaten unconscious with a
hammer by an unknown attacker on May 12 in the entranceway to his Moscow
Police at the time said they could not determine if the attack was in
retaliation for something Domnikov had written. Several journalists have been
attacked or killed in Russia after writing controversial articles.
The attacker or attackers escaped.
Novaya Gazeta said in a statement that Domnikov was in a coma for two months
and died Sunday without regaining consciousness.
The newspaper's editor, Dmitry Muratov, said at the time of the attack that
the assault may have been aimed at another of the paper's journalists, who
specializes in investigating official corruption. That journalist resembles
Domnikov and lives in the same building.
Domnikov wrote about culture and education.
Novaya Gazeta specializes in investigative journalism and often focuses on
alleged government wrongdoing. In March, someone broke into its computer
system and destroyed an entire issue.
Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2000
[for personal use only]
Russians Dying--Literally--for Favorite Fungi
Europe: It's mushroom-picking season, and this year dozens have died after
eating a poisonous variety. Overconfidence among the harvesters is a factor,
By ROBYN DIXON, Times Staff Writer
MOSCOW--Like most Russians, Sergei Kayava and his family considered
themselves mushroom experts--but the assumption proved fatal.
On July 8, he and his family eagerly dished up helpings of buttery fried
forest mushrooms prepared by his mother-in-law.
"She is very good at cooking mushrooms. She boiled them and then fried
them and then served them with boiled potatoes. It was delicious," Kayava
But the dish killed Kayava's wife, Marina, 40, and her father.
Collecting mushrooms earlier that day, Kayava's in-laws mistook the deadly
blednaya poganka, or pale toadstool, for the innocuous and tasty syroyezhki
Now recovering in a hospital in Voronezh, 300 miles southeast of Moscow,
Kayava, 31, managed to attend his wife's funeral Saturday. His mother-in-law
also is recovering.
"It is very stupid to bring home and cook your own poison," he said
grimly in an interview after returning to the hospital. "But we have been
picking and eating mushrooms all our lives, and nothing ever happened."
Regarded as the deadliest mushroom in the world, the blednaya poganka is
otherwise known as the death cap, or Amanita phalloides. Just a quarter of
one cap can kill. The first signs of poisoning usually appear six to 15 hours
after consumption and include nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain and
diarrhea. Those who do survive often suffer severe kidney and liver damage.
In Russia, foraging for mushrooms is a national obsession. The Russians
call it quiet hunting.
The mushroom season has just begun and lasts until late September, but
already at least 95 people have died in Russia and Ukraine, a casualty figure
much higher than normal for this time of year.
"What is happening is a real catastrophe," said Nikolai Manchik, the
chief doctor in charge of treating epidemics and sanitary problems in the
city of Voronezh, where 19 have died. For Manchik, the death toll brings to
mind a natural disaster, major industrial accident or gas attack. Yet there
is little coverage in the national media of the mushroom deaths.
"The most absurd and terrible thing is that these people themselves went
out into the woods to look for their death, to pick it up, to bring it home
and even share it with their children, families, relatives, friends, or sell
the deadly poison at markets or by the roadside," he said.
Twenty-nine deaths occurred in the Belgorod, Voronezh and Volgograd
regions of southern Russia. In Ukraine, 66 have perished.
Fourteen more victims were hospitalized in Voronezh in the 24 hours
ending Saturday evening, despite graphic warnings on local radio and
television this past week cautioning people to avoid collecting any
"That won't stop people from doing it. Picking mushrooms is a passion
and addiction with millions of people in our country," said Dmitry Shevchuk,
the Voronezh regional hospital's toxicologist.
In the all-too-brief Russian summer, many wander for hours in the
forests, picking wild strawberries and collecting hazelnuts and mushrooms.
The most prized delicacy, white mushrooms, known as cepe in French or
porcini in Italian, are fried with oil and garlic and sour cream--or pickled
to last through the winter.
The death cap is found in Europe, parts of the former Soviet Union and
the western United States, including California. It can be white,
grayish-green or yellow and closely resembles syroyezhki mushrooms from the
Voronezh police are now patrolling the forests, stopping mushroom
foragers and checking their baskets.
"But you can't post a policeman near every tree," Manchik said.
Vladimir Ivannikov, duty officer at the Voronezh police headquarters,
said there are not enough personnel to deal with the mushroom poisoning
problem, adding that crime-fighting activities are being neglected in an
effort to save lives.
"We can't go out and destroy all the mushrooms. We can't prohibit people
from picking mushrooms. But we can stop them and explain to them the danger
they are exposing themselves to," he said.
Manchik said most of the victims were elderly and had failing eyesight.
"They have been picking mushrooms all their lives, and they think that they
are experienced enough," he said.
Vladimir Ektov, chief doctor of the Voronezh regional hospital, said
that, at the beginning of every summer, the hospital prepares itself for a
rash of mushroom poisonings.
"But we didn't expect so many casualties. The number beats all the past
records," he said.
One popular theory in Russia is that environmental contamination causes
edible mushrooms to mutate and become deadly. But health authorities reject
"Experts have made lots of environmental probes. It is established now
beyond all doubt that these poisonings have nothing to do with any industrial
poisons, salts, acids or radiation. The only reason is the deadly pale
toadstool and nothing else," Ektov said.
Like many victims, Kayava and his wife dismissed the early symptoms of
poisoning as merely a bad stomach upset and delayed going to the hospital
until Monday morning, even though Marina's parents had been rushed to the
hospital in an ambulance early last Sunday.
Marina died Thursday, four days after her father.
Ektov said it is difficult to save people who wait 48 hours before
seeking medical assistance.
In the U.S., the treatment for poisoning cases is often a liver
transplant; however, such steps are unheard of in Russia's rundown medical
Part of the problem seems to be overconfidence among Russian mushroom
hunters, many of whom pride themselves on their expertise.
"Whatever they may think about their experience and knowledge, I am
convinced people in Russia are extremely undereducated about mushrooms,"
Shevchuk said. "The situation has to be addressed before more people die."
Sergei L. Loiko of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.
The Russia Journal
July 15-21, 2000
O, Russia! Why do you steal so much?
By Tatyana Matsuk, former head researcher at the Employment Institute, part
of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Columnist Tatyana Matsuk points out how theft increases as a nation’s
When I finished university, I went to recover my health in Yevpatoria, a
resort town in the steppe region of Crimea. The sea there was shallow, the
beaches sandy and most of the vacationers were parents with their kids and
people with back problems. The medicine there was fine, but the rest wasn’t
so good. With heat and crowds all around and people hoping for a miracle
cure to their ailments, my mood wasn’t the best.
A gypsy woman who approached me on the street sensed this. "I see your back
is troubling you," she said. "Give me a ruble, no, give me all the money
you’ve got on you, and I’ll return it to you by ridding you of your illness."
I was a materialist to the marrow in those days, I didn’t believe in
sorcery and knew that gypsies cheated people, but she was so insistent, and
I figured I’d take a look at whatever trick she had up her sleeve, certain
I’d be able to catch her out.
But I was naive. She took my few rubles plus a couple of hairs from my head
and screwed them up in her fist, then muttered some incantation, after
which, she said my ailment would disappear along with everything in her
hand. She blew on her fist, opened her hand and there was nothing there. I
It’s not that I’d given her such a vast sum, enough to buy myself some
fruit for a few days. But I felt cheated and yelled that I’d call the
police. There were plenty of people around, and the gypsy, deciding my few
rubles wasn’t worth a scandal, opened her other hand and gave me back my
money. I never heard of anyone else being so lucky, especially not in these
tough post-Soviet times.
The thing is, the poorer the people, the more thieves and swindlers appear.
This isn’t new in Russian history. Legend has it that when the famous
singer Alexander Vertinsky returned to Russia from emigration after World
War II, he arrived at the railway station, stepped onto the platform and
raised his hands and eyes skywards with the words "O, Russia!" When he
looked down again, he saw his suitcase had vanished. "You haven’t changed,"
My grandmother lived through three wars and always carried her money and
papers in a special pouch sewn into her undergarments. But even she got
diddled on a couple of occasions. When her family was returning to Moscow
after evacuation during the war, someone stole a goose she had raised
herself. Then, at a market, she bought a watch as a gift for her husband,
only to discover it contained no mechanism.
These days, swindlers are known as "Kidali" and have descended on the
country like locusts, looking to "kinut" – cheat – people, wherever and
however they can. Swindlers in the street will invite you to lose your
money playing their deviously simple gambling games. Even well-known human
rights activist Sergei Kovalyov has been swindled this way.
Remember how, as kids, we’d play the innocent little trick of tying a
string around a purse in the street, making it "run away" from whoever
tried to pick it up? These days, it doesn’t run away, but it can leave your
own wallet rather empty. You see someone drop a wallet, pick it up and hand
it back. "Hey, but where’s the money that was inside?" soon comes the
owner’s accusing question. And, faced with an increasingly threatening
situation, you end up shelling out.
Whole criminal groups are hard at work thriving on this kind of racket
these days, and, as it often turns out, not without the help of corrupt
representatives of the law. The gypsies have also diversified their
activities. An increasingly common case involves victims – usually young
women – handing over all their money under some kind of hypnosis.
And don’t imagine you can always tell a kidala by their appearance. The
respectable business partner, the girl you’ve met in the street, they could
both be kidali. You have to keep your wits about you these days, be ever
vigilant. My grandmother believed in that – "trust, but check first" she’d
say. It’s no good becoming totally paranoid, of course, but a bit of
know-how in dealing with the sharks out there never hurts.
Putin's Asia tour to boost Russian role in region
By Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, July 16 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin heads for China on
Monday on the first leg of an Asian tour which also takes him to reclusive
North Korea and to Japan and aims to show Russia can still pack plenty of
diplomatic punch in the region.
It will be Putin's first trip to Asia since he was elected president in March
and will help restore some balance to his diplomatic record after a flurry of
visits to European capitals.
``Asia is very important for Russia,'' Putin said on Friday. ``Russia is both
a European and an Asiatic state. It is like a bird and can only fly well if
it uses both wings.''
In China, Putin will hope to build on a ``strategic partnership'' between the
two giant neighbours announced by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. His trip to
Stalinist North Korea will be the first by any Kremlin leader, Soviet or
Then, after a brief stopover in the Russian Far Eastern town of
Blagoveschensk for talks with regional leaders, Putin flies on to the
southern Japanese island of Okinawa to attend the annual summit of the Group
of Eight nations on July 21-23.
It is a typically frenetic agenda for the 47-year-old former KGB spy, whose
energetic, hands-on approach to government is in sharp contrast to Yeltsin,
whose foreign trips were always clouded by fears about his health and his
grasp of the issues.
The tour, a long time in the planning, coincides with rising tensions back in
Moscow over Putin's drive to curb the powers of Russia's regional bosses and
amid a crackdown on top tycoons.
Abroad, Putin should face fewer upsets. Ties with China are the best they
have been for decades and the unprecedented summit with North Korean leader
Kim Jong-il will assure Putin an avid hearing from the leaders of the world's
seven richest nations including U.S. President Bill Clinton when he gets to
RUSSIA, CHINA SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON MOST MATTERS
Putin arrives in Beijing late on Monday and will hold talks with President
Jiang Zemin and other senior leaders on Tuesday.
``We can expect a further deepening of economic and political cooperation
between Russia and China and the pushing ahead with specific projects,'' a
senior Russian official told reporters.
Reflecting the range of issues to be discussed, Putin will be escorted by a
big delegation including Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defence Minister Igor
Sergeyev, Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, the head of arms exporter
Rosvooruzheniye Alexei Ogarev, economic adviser Andrei Illarionov and
``Putin is perhaps close to the Chinese leadership in spirit. He is a
pragmatist and has made rebuilding Russia's economic strength his priority,''
said political analyst Sergei Karaganov.
``The prospects for our relations are good,'' he told Reuters.
Beijing is a key customer for Russian oil, natural gas and arms while Russia
wants better access to China's billion-strong market. But annual bilateral
trade is only five billion dollars, despite past pledges to hit the 20
billion dollar mark by 2000.
One of the projects likely to feature on Tuesday's agenda is a
multi-billion-dollar pipeline from an east Siberian gasfield.
On the diplomatic front, Russia and China have found common cause in opposing
U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence system which they say threatens
to detonate a new arms race.
Moscow and Beijing are also alarmed by an emerging Western doctrine, sparked
by the carnage in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which says state sovereignty should
not provide cover for gross human rights abuses and which backs international
Both China and Russia have been targets of Western criticism over their human
rights record. They say their domestic policies are their own affair and
accuse Western countries of hypocrisy.
RUSSIA EYES ``BROKER'' ROLE ON KOREAN PENINSULA
Putin's visit to Pyongyang on Wednesday follows on the heels of an historic
meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas and offers a chance for Moscow
to revive its neglected relations with its onetime Cold War partner.
International issues, security and bilateral cooperation are set to dominate
his talks with the North Korean leadership.
Russia is one of the few countries with extensive diplomatic representation
in North Korea, though it has focused more on building ties with capitalist
South Korea in recent years.
Clearly eyeing a role as honest broker on the divided peninsula, Putin told
Reuters and other media in an interview last week: ``We will do everything we
can to facilitate the process of normalisation (between the two Koreas).''
``The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is our neighbour.
We have a shared border, we have a vital interest in establishing peace and
concord in this region because this has a direct effect on Russia,'' Putin
July 14, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
PUTIN SAYS NO THREAT OF POLICE STATE
Following below is an interview by President Vladimir
PUTIN of the Russian Federation to Izvestia
Putin was interviewed at his Kremlin office, with the
clock above the door showing several minutes after 10.00 p.m.
The President, who kept glancing at that clock time and gain,
nonetheless didn't ask Izvestia correspondents to wind up. The
interview ended after 11.00 p.m., with the President eventually
replying to all of our questions. Incidentally, some of them
were answered by him in writing. The excerpts of his written
answers are also published below.
Question: Mr. President, your initiatives aiming to
strengthen the Russian Federation's state mechanisms are being
discussed rather actively nowadays. Many perceive this as yet
another "bolt - tightening" campaign. What should, in your
opinion, such state mechanisms be like?
Answer: Our state mechanisms must be effective and
therefore strong. Otherwise they would merely mock the people
of Russia. The strength of Russia's institutions of state
authority and their affiliation with any particular force are
an entirely different matter. Any state mechanisms are worth
nothing, in case they strive to impose all sorts of bans and
restrictions upon society, and if any normal person wants to
keep away from such institutions of state authority. Meanwhile
open and predictable institutions of state authority, which use
their leverage in order to protect people's dignity and human
freedoms, to ensure their safety and the right to choice, and
which also enable people to honestly earn their living on a
regular basis, in that case such state mechanisms can be
considered to be genuinely effective and strong.
Frankly speaking, the people of Russia have always
preferred to curse the government, to fear it, also expecting
nothing good from it. Our historical experience is filled with
numerous fears. However, it would be an over-simplification to
say that any fear concerning a possible reversion to old-time
patterns is based on previous experience alone. Quite a few
young people, who have just firmly asserted themselves, are
quite apprehensive about all sorts of rumors concerning yet
another redivision of property or the revision of specific
privatization results. I understand them perfectly well.
Constantly changing regulations, unstable property relations,
as well as contradictory laws, are not conducive to normal
business operations on Russian territory. On the other hand,
less substantial state economic regulation had incurred
large-scale tax evasion and other numerous violations. As a
result, many local businessmen now find themselves in a risky
zone and have a potentially complex relationship with the law.
So, why shouldn't they be nervous?
Therefore one would like to know, what must be done about
all this. It would be unfair to blame Russian citizens alone
and to pretend that the state is not responsible for this state
of things. Consequently, we have, first of all, decided to
implement a set of measures that would be expected to
drastically improve the national business environment. This
implies our tax bills and those stipulating deductions into
extra-budgetary funds, in the first place. Their approval would
herald the beginning of an entirely new stage in relations
between Russia's powers-that-be and its business community,
e.g. that of deliberate mutual responsibility and mutual
commitments. The state would like to charge 13-percent flat
income tax, which would make all business operations really
profitable. Besides, this move would ensure their maximum
possible transparency. However, the state has every right to
expect businessmen to reciprocate and to play by the rules.
Question: How do presidential administrative reform bills
fit into such logic?
Answer: One should not mix up administrative reforms and
specific reforms aiming to cement the Russian Federation. The
former constitute just a small part of the latter. As far as
the so-called "federal package" is concerned, it completely
tallies with the relevant logic of establishing specific rules
of the game. You see, each institution of state authority, as
well as municipal administrations, must have their own rights
and clear-cut responsibilities. I can cite a multitude of
facts, thereby proving that we live in a state which still has
a long way to go, before attaining the ideals of federalism.
Otherwise one finds it hard to explain the decision of some
territories to approve various legal acts, which stipulate
special entry- and-residence proceedings or which ban the
delivery of local foodstuffs to other Russian regions. In some
cases, native dwellers were entitled to a more privileged
status than other Russian citizens residing in one and the same
region. All this is happening today, rather than during the
medieval period or the serfdom era. We must promptly restore
the balance between different tiers of state power, as well as
normal interaction between them.
Apart from that, the current tug-of-war inside the Russian
state power system must be stopped. Corporate or personal
ambitions tend to overshadow state interests time and again.
Well, this situation is really deplorable. Such developments,
e.g. the current conflict between the Federation Council and
the State Duma, seem to be particularly strange.
I don't see anything bad when regional leaders behave like
big-league politicians. However, genuinely responsible
politicians are not going to shy away from specific provisions
of the Russian Constitution's Article 77, no matter what.
Meanwhile that Article stipulates an integral executive power
system. Still regional administrators are having trouble
dealing with city mayors, who are also being elected by their
fellow citizens, and who don't want to cede even one square
meter of their territory, as well as their freedoms, in
exchange for effective mutual intra-regional cooperation.
Question: Regional governors are seen as veritable gods
and kings by the population of their respective territories.
This can be explained by the fact that Moscow lies far away;
therefore local dwellers, big-league businessmen included, have
no alternative but to turn to their territorial administrations
for help. To what extent do you want to change this situation?
Besides, you can't monitor regional developments on a regular
basis. This can't even be accomplished with the help of
presidential plenipotentiaries and their deputies. You have now
lined up all regional leaders, scaring them stiff all the same.
Besides, are you sure that your representatives will continue
to display their good behavior for more than several
consecutive months after their appointment?
Answer: You are asking a lot of questions at one go. And
it looks like you already know the answers to such questions.
So, let's sort things out. First of all, it would be erroneous
to refer to regional leaders as "kings." One should not forget
that they shoulder tremendous responsibility, also engaging in
tremendous everyday work. The people keep addressing them, in
the first place; and this is seen as something normal.
However, Russian citizens living on the territory of the
Russian Federation's constituent members tend to resemble
regional subjects, rather than the citizens of a united
country. I want to change this situation. As a matter of fact,
we have been confronting such trends all the time. This
concerns delayed passport issues in some Russian national
republics, as well as wage arrears with regard to the personnel
of local state-run organizations. Moreover, regional
authorities have repeatedly stifled economic freedom even not
so long ago. Regional businesses have been divided among their
cronies, what with local authorities harassing the press, as
well as "free" public organizations, and keeping an eye on them
all the time.
We should have no illusions here. Local authorities tend
to amend or restrict citizens' constitutional rights in such
cases, also blaming their superiors for this rather skilfully.
Consequently, our incipient efforts to streamline relations
between institutions of state authority have caused a rather
loud-mouthed reaction, what with some people shouting that the
federal center wanted to control everything once again. Well,
we don't want to do this. Nor do we aspire for local officials'
arbitrary rule and their complete uncontrollability. I've
recently asked the Constitutional Court's Chairman about that
rather slow-poke approval of various legal acts dealing with
the violation of federal legislation by Russian regions and
their subsequent implementation. In his words, this situation
can be explained by lack of the relevant machinery for
translating such legal acts into life. He is apparently right
here because it would be inexpedient to implement any measures,
which are going to seep into sand, no matter what. We've got to
act without delay, though. We want to rectify this utterly
despicable situation, also ensuring the unfailing
implementation of specific decisions. Still it's an open secret
that Russia lacks effective state power at this stage.
And now a few words about presidential plenipotentiaries.
You are quite right when you say that much depends on their
personal qualities, their subsequent relations with territorial
governors and their staunch defense of state interests. They
are going to face quite a few snags and open conflicts in the
future. Speaking about your doubts as regards the worthy
behavior of presidential plenipotentiaries, I don't see any
reasons for such pessimism. If you think that they will go on a
rampage, and that they will turn into Gogolesque authoritarian
rulers, then I can tell you that this won't happen. Territorial
leaders are vested with tremendous powers within the framework
of Russian legislation. Incidentally, presidential
plenipotentiaries a priori have no right to encroach on their
prerogatives. Their terms of reference are stipulated in line
with the law. On the contrary, with the establishment of
federal districts the federal center, instead of drifting away
from Russian territories, must tackle their problems more
actively. This seems to be the most important thing here.
Surely enough, this also implies the reinstatement of the
federal center's powers. Regional leaders are really
experienced and pragmatic people, who have weathered numerous
conflicts involving federal officials, etc. Consequently,
presidential plenipotentiaries will have to use their knowledge
and all sorts of convincing arguments, while dealing with them.
Well, this is exactly what they are doing at this stage. Still
I'd like to stress once again that we'll be jointly tackling
all problems. Neither the President, nor governors, or
presidential plenipotentiaries will rectify the situation all
on their own.
Question: You continue to swell the bureaucratic
machinery, also super-imposing it on that of territorial
governors. Doesn't such a policy substitute the institutions of
civil society with bureaucratic entities, which, in their turn,
would crush those very few aspects of a free civilized state on
Russian territory? Why are you sure that all these structures
won't get carried away with their own game?
Answer: Why do you think that they will crush such
aspects, or that they will get carried away? Do you really
believe that a 1990-vintage official and his 2000-vintage
counterpart resemble each other to such a great extent? I know
that people sometimes fear that excessively zealous officials,
who aim to establish law and order, would ultimately clamp down
on public freedoms. Well, the creation of a strong and
effective state can't entail the violation of civil freedoms;
nor must this process cause such violations. It's really bad
when certain officials perceive the entire state line aiming to
establish law and order as a chance for greater bureaucratic
arbitrary rule, that is, when customs officers, tax inspectors
or border guards treat people with disrespect, also insulting
their human dignity and causing them trouble with all sorts of
unjustified fault-finding remarks and suspicions. Russia, which
must not be a police state, won't become such a state.
However, yet another problem exists. Russia's
powers-that-be have become paralyzed as a result of inner
contradictions, thus providing this country with what seems to
be the most permissive society on this planet. Unfortunately,
our society doesn't obey the law, order and specific moral
requirements, too. Quite a few people were quite happy about
this rather profitable situation. However, that dolce vita has
now ended, what with Russian authorities stopping all
discussions on these issues and moving to re-establish law and
order. Consequently, some people began to shout that such
actions threaten freedom and democracy. Still I'm sure that
they have no reason for making all these statements. Meanwhile
we had every reason to fear not so long ago that unlimited
freedom would eventually demolish the state, also crushing its
citizens and thus wiping out that most democratic and freest
society the need for which was discussed by all and sundry.
So, let's face the facts. First of all, Russian democracy was
virtually imposed from above. Second, we have drastically
overhauled the entire national political and socio-economic
system over an extremely short historical period. This goal was
achieved in no time at all just because we used to establish
freedom and democracy with the help of law and sometimes even
by decrees, first and foremost. In some cases, such actions
tended to outpace society's ability to adapt to such freedoms,
what with historical necessity depriving us of a chance for
evolutionary development. We had no time and resources for
prolonging the reforms over several consecutive decades and to
expect drastic changes within the framework of society and the
public mentality, too. No one had ever lavished such a gift
upon us; and nobody is going to do this in the future. We
simply lack other people, another economy and other civil
officers. Nonetheless, we boast a fairly obvious resource for
creating a more effective and capable state.
Question: You have also repeated that concept dealing with
a strong and effective state, which now has every right to
demand compliance with its new rules of the game, during your
State-of-the-Nation Address. Whom do such demands concern? Do
they concern Russia's ordinary citizens, officials and
oligarchs? Besides, are you sure that the state has such a
moral right at this stage?
Answer: These processes can develop only simultaneously.
The state must upgrade itself, e.g. the mechanisms of its own
work. Besides, it would be expected to educate its officials,
also providing them with certain opportunities and setting
forth specific boundaries for them. At the same time, the state
must create the required conditions enabling it to demand
compliance with specific rules being stipulated by Russian
legislation on the part of everyone. I'm absolutely sure that
all these processes should develop simultaneously, also
complementing one another. In my opinion, the state already has
a moral right to become more exacting toward itself and all of
Russia's citizens, too. The state has started fulfilling some
of its commitments already today.
Still I don't want to refer to such results as achievements.
For example, the state has always noted the attainment of the
federal budget's macro-economic parameters, which constitute
the pillar of our economy. In fact, the state abides by such
parameters to the best of its ability. We have moved away from
that federal budget deficit for the first time during the
entire reform period, also doing our best to ensure a budgetary
surplus. The state has promised to act more vigorously inside
various business spheres, e.g. taxation and a streamlined
economy. In fact, this is what it's doing at this stage.
Whether some people like it or not, but the state keeps solving
various problems in the given field. Take our principled
position with regard to all those closed
administrative-territorial entities, for one. Such entities had
handled more than 80 billion roubles last year, failing to
transfer all those monies into the federal treasury. It ought
to be mentioned for comparison's sake that the entire Russian
defense budget totals 140 billion roubles. We have now pruned
the number of closed administrative-territorial entities from
42 to only 2, accomplishing this objective in line with the law
and convincing the deputies to agree with our position, too.
All this gives us every right to hope that other parties to
strengthening the Russian state will act in a similar manner.
Question: In your State-of-the-Nation Address, you have
admitted that such an optimistic economic situation mostly
constitutes the result of external factors, e.g. sky-high
global oil prices and a favorable global-market situation.
Consequently, it would still be too early to ascribe all these
achievements to a new effective state.
Answer: Yes, I've already told everyone that we are now
taking advantage of that favorable global-market situation.
However, consistent, persistent and deliberate state actions
should not be overlooked either. This concerns our social
commitments, as well. We continue to unfailingly fulfil our
commitments in the given field, also trying to avoid any
thoughtless policies that would make them really exorbitant.
By the way, we can now implement such policies because the
state has scooped up additional revenues. Mind you, we are not
trying to win cheap, albeit short-lived, popularity. What we
want is to create a favorable economic environment that, in its
turn, would create favorable conditions for expanding the
Russian economy and industry as a whole.
Question: The trouble is that there is a large gap between
understanding the need to create an effective state, which the
president has and about which he spoke in his Address, and the
real state, with which the people daily deal in the person of
traffic inspectors, sanitary inspectors, or officials who issue
Answer: I fully agree. The Address stipulated the tasks,
which we must strive to fulfil. We could idled now. We could
save our political resource, avoid confrontation, and be
pleasant to everyone. But I don't think this would be right.
Why come to the Kremlin at all in this case? I could have done
something else instead. To remain idle and politically virgin?
What for? For whom? If I doubt something, I am prepared to look
not just seven, but seventy times before leaping. But if I am
sure that my actions are substantiated, I act very
Talk with economic experts. For years they said that it is
clear, in general, what we must do. The only thing we needed
was the will to do it. I spoke about the development of
economic freedom in the Address. Why is not this clear? It must
be protected. We should not just advertise some postulates, but
really protect them. If we speak about reducing the tax burden,
then we must uphold our view before the State Duma deputies and
Federation Council members.
We used to have a completely ineffective sales tax, 2.5%
of which were channelled to the so-called Road-Building Fund.
Do you know how large is this fund? 150 billion roubles, or 5
billion dollars. And we collected this sum every year for six
years in a row. This adds up to 30 billion dollars. I am sure
that if this money had been really spent on road building, we
would have had only freeways, highways and autobahns in Russia
now. Yet Russia still suffers from its two main troubles (bad
roads and fools).
What does this mean? It means that state money is not spent
effectively. This means that we must combat this ineffective
We have reduced the sales tax from 4.5% to 1%. Or take the
customs sphere. We discussed the standardisation of customs
duties at one of the conferences. I asked those who demanded a
dramatic reduction of tariffs how we would protect some
economic branches. "But we are not protecting them," they
Commodities are imported to Russia at the lowest tariffs. Given
the current level of corruption in the customs sphere, it is
useless to have a large number of customs duties, because the
state does not get what it should in this case, and the economy
is not protected.
For example, if we want to help agricultural producers, we
must first and foremost admit that as many chicken quarters are
imported as the importers want, irrespective of what the
customs documents say. I repeat, it is clear now what we should
do. We must act now. And as you see, we are acting cautiously,
yet we are progressing.
Question: How strong is the resistance?
Answer: Incredible. We are not acting contrary to the
Constitution. If we can do it, if the point at issue lies in
the sphere of competence of the executive authorities, we issue
a presidential decree or a government resolution. But a
considerable part of problems cannot be settled outside the
framework of current legislation. Consequently, we should go to
the Duma (with new laws).
Question: Are you convinced that you will overcome all
Answer: I am convinced that we will fulfil a considerable
part of tasks facing the country.
Question: What social forces support you?
Answer: The multinational people of Russia. And those who
resist will do their best to discredit our actions. Moreover,
businessmen are trying to settle scores with each other, using
state structures and law-enforcement agencies for the purpose.
We must put an end to this. Otherwise such actions will
continue to harm the state. It is also clear that nobody is
immune to errors, and errors can reduce the social support
base. But I never forget what I said when assuming power: I
promised to work openly and honestly and to explain all my
actions. So that each and every citizen would understand them.
I seriously doubt that the people cannot understand. Moreover,
I am convinced that they will understand. You know, they do not
live on Mars; they live in Russia. And in this case we can
expect that the support base will not dwindle.
Question: Chechnya is apparently the most difficult or
disputed problem in society. How soon can this problem be
Answer: Haste is needed only when catching lice. When
tackling such large-scale problems as those facing us in the
North Caucasus, we should be patient, act accurately and in a
substantiated manner. Each mistake can cost us dearly there. It
is clear to me, as well as to a large number of people with
whom I talked about Chechnya, that Chechnya is not becoming
independent outside Russia. It is becoming the object of
expansion of extremist forces. This is not acceptable to Russia
because as an object of expansion Chechnya will immediately
become a bridgehead for an attack against Russia. Should we
slacken our influence and actions, we will see an effect
multiplied many times over. We have had this before.
This is why I am absolutely sure that the problem should
be resolved where it arose. If we allow it to grow, we will not
just destroy the state, but will do direct and irreparable
damage to all nations that live in the Russian Federation. So,
no matter how hard it may be, we must resolve the problem
there. It will take time. We must admit that nearly a whole
generation grew up in conditions of violence in the past ten
years in Chechnya. And the solution of this problem calls not
only for the use of military force, but also for large-scale
social rehabilitation work, an effective political process,
resources and certain sacrifices. Everyone should be made to
see that we will either fulfil this task now or we will take
fright again and back out, only to encounter the same problems
a little later - but with many more casualties.
Question: Let's get back to the social forces that support
you. Russia has a second problem in addition to bad roads. It
concerns more than just fools. It concerns personnel. Are there
people who would implement decisions and adequately understand
new tasks, which you as the national leader set them?
Answer: I think Russia has never had a shortage of
talented people, active people with pro-state thinking. One of
the major advantages of our country, which keeps it in the
ranks of great states, is the high level of education of its
Consequently, there is a base for replenishing personnel. But
the trouble is that we should make this work attractive, from
the view of both material remuneration and society's attitude
to officials. This is a very topical task now. An information
revolution is underway in the world, and we must not lag behind.
Consequently, we will need those who can use these novel
Another task is to ensure the adjustment of officials to
the quickly changing conditions of state work. We need
programmes that would raise the professional standards of state
Such programmes have been suggested, and some of them have been
put into effect.
Question: Meanwhile, quite a few on the staff of the
prosecutor offices and law-enforcement agencies have a
derogatory attitude to businessmen, whom they still call
"cooperators." The skills, knowledge and attitude that were
developed during the stage of "developed socialism" are still
alive. And this engenders the fear, especially in view of the
latest events in the sphere of business - I mean the
confiscation of documents, searches, criminal proceedings, and
re-registration - that the state might exceed the unmarked
line. These fears are one of the reasons for appeals to you as
the supreme authority. Can you see this line and outline it to
Answer: We all want to live in a state ruled by law. Each
official, including the president, has certain functions and
rights. Why do you think I will operate beyond the framework of
the legal space and dictate to the prosecutor offices, which
are an independent agency in this country? The law prohibits me
to issue such instructions.
Question: You appoint the heads of law-enforcement
agencies and nominate the prosecutor general. Consequently, you
bear responsibility for the actions of these departments.
Answer: I appoint government members. As for the
prosecutor general, I suggest a candidate to the Federation
Council, which appoints him. As of this moment, the prosecutor
general, unlike other state officials, become independent of
me. I can issue instructions to the interior and justice
ministers, the FSB director and the head of the tax police. But
I cannot do this with regard to the Office of the Prosecutor
General. In fact, the Prosecutor General's Office is in a
But the president as the guarantor of the Constitution
must supervise the general situation in this sphere. If I see
that the law-enforcement agencies, acting in professional,
caste or any other interests, are pressing for a positive -
from their viewpoint - result at all costs, but this result
will damage the tasks facing the state in the economic sphere
or in the development of the institutes of democracy, I will
use all available means to amend the situation. I repeat, I
think I can act only in the boundaries of the constitutional
As for business, I am prepared to say again that those
businessmen who try to usurp the functions of the state or get
privileges by using "special" relations with the authorities,
will have to abandon their efforts. The law is one for all. It
is inadmissible when the volume of rights is directly
proportionate to the volume of capital and property boons.
Question: In fact, you have spoken about the first three
branches of power. But democratic countries have the fourth
branch of power, or the fourth estate, which is the mass media.
Does this estate fit into your vision of an effective state? Do
you regard the mass media as the fourth estate?
Answer: Not as power in its classical understanding. Yes
as a major element of democratic society.
Question: Then what is mass media to you: a channel of
information from the state to society, or a possibility of
society to express its opinion and make it heard?
Answer: It is the possibility of the people to freely
express their views, voice ideas and press for their
implementation. This is one of the most important functions of
the mass media. The conflict in relations between the
authorities and the mass media is an artificial conflict. It is
being forced on us, in an attempt to draw our attention from
the legal essence of the problem. I think this is largely an
expression of the subconscious fears of the owners of
information empires as representatives of Russian oligarchy.
They are fighting for the preservation of their influence on
the state more than for the freedom of speech and for a free
There are talented, original people in the mass media.
People with a God's sparkle in them. The state is guilty in
that it has not created mechanisms that would make this
business self-sufficient. It should create such conditions now,
so that these people would be able to work independently. I
think that if the state really wants the mass media to be a
truly independent, democratic instrument of the development of
society, it should extend certain privileges to this sector of
We see today that this is not a highly profitable business.
The cost of newsprint, printing and related aspects is very
Many still have to print their output not in Russia, but in,
say, Finland or Germany. This situation must be changed; we
must make the mass media truly independent. Only then will the
mass media reflect life as it is, rather than how those who
order information want to see it.
Question: You said in the Address that we have "common
values that bring us together." Will you introduce a new
national idea in society?
Answer: Only innovators and secret agents "introduce"
But seriously, there has been much fighting over the national
idea. And there are objective reasons for this. For ten years
the country had lived in conditions of harsh political
struggle, and many saw the national idea as the cure for
endless disputes and strife. The authorities failed to clearly
explain the essence of changes to the people, their meaning for
the country and each person.
We used the right words -- freedom, democracy and market.
But what do they mean? Advertisement footage from the Western
mass media? Or the shining windows of shops? Or something else?
The public consciousness was fed only with this "advertisement-
promotion" propaganda for a long time. I think it is useless
and senseless to elaborate a national idea, or as you put, to
introduce it to society. It cannot be invented. It takes
centuries to develop moral and ethical values of the nation.
Like any country that respects itself, Russia has a base on
which we can create our own ethnical structure. But to do this
we should strengthen the state, the economy, and democratic
Including the free press.
Our society has grown up considerably. The people are
changing, together with their understanding of life. And I am
convinced that we can already discern the outlines of the new
common national idea. If society, the people themselves, are
ready to work for the basic common goals, the reforms underway
now will be successful.
Question: How do you feel now? As "the father of the
nation," responsible for nearly 150 million people?
Answer: I feel as the father of my children - I have two
daughters. In the Kremlin, I feel as a very high-ranking
official, on whose decisions the life of the state depends, now
and in the longer run. I have a formidable feeling of
responsibility for these decisions and very much want to fulfil
the tasks, which I set to myself when making the decision to
run for president. I love our country very much. This feeling
became especially poignant after I had toured the regions. Our
people deserve a much better life than the one they have now.
Second, I became more and more convinced, ever since my
term in the Security Council, that the world is developing
highly intensively. Russia is lagging behind in this
competition so far.
Our development rates are lower than in industrialised, and
even in some developing, countries. And this adds to
responsibility for decisions. And forces me to act more
resolutely, disregarding the possible negative consequences for
Question: You mentioned your visits to regions. Your trips
were so intensive that one begins to fear about your health.
The voters are worried.
Answer: I have thought about this. Indeed, this entails
serious physical exertion. But I will work in this regime as
long as I can.
Question: Do you rest?
Answer: Little. For example, I planned to take a rest now.
My friends are waiting for me, they have come from St.
Petersburg. I think the barbecue has been burnt by this time...
But I am used to this speed. I think everything depends on
inner self-organisation. One can remain in the office until two
in the morning, but the effectiveness will go down. This is why
I try to daily engage in sports. 30-40 minutes in the morning.
I sometimes find the time to go to a theatre, ski, or meet with
friends. I like to see films and read historical books.
Question: And your daughters?
Answer: Of course, I have been neglecting them. But they
have become reconciled to this. They are good girls.
* * *
At the end of this conversation, the president took out a
few sheets of paper. There are figures written in a small hand
on them. "I decided to provide a few figures for this
interview," Putin says.
"The economic growth rate amounted to 7-8% in the first
quarter. We registered growth in nearly all branches and
regions of the country, with the exception of seven regions.
Most of them in the Far East and Chukotka. The overall
budgetary surplus amounted to 1.6% of the GDP in the first six
months of the year.
Exports grew by 43.5%. The national hard currency reserves
equalled 11.2 billion dollars in August (last year) and equal
21.7 billion dollars now. All this allowed us to make the
national economy more socially oriented.
"As for federal debts, we have repaid our debts to the
public sector and reduced overall debts from 15 billion roubles
to 6 billion roubles. Pensions were raised four times since
August last year, or by a total of 77%. We planned to raise the
average pension to 713 roubles by the end of this year. But we
will raise it to 885 roubles in August. We are repaying our
debts and get hardly any assistance form the IMF. We did not
get anything from it this year, and repaid 4.3 billion dollars
Unemployment dropped considerably, from 1.5 million to 1.069
* * *
Question: What part of these achievements did you score as
the premier and as the president?
Answer: This is all a result of team work.