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Johnson's Russia List
2 September 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Financial Times (UK): Andrew Jack, Kremlin 'exerted pressure'
in Russia elections.
2. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: 'Economics' Is Too Easy An Excuse.
3. The Russia Journal: Vera Kuznetsova, Not what the spin doctor
ordered. The differences between Putin and Yeltsin PR.
4. Reuters: Russia hails U.S. decision to put NMD on hold.
5. Interfax: RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PREVIEWS RUSSIA'S AGENDA AT
UN MILLENNIUM SUMMIT.
6. BBC MONITORING: PUTIN VISITS VILLAGE SCHOOL IN SAMARA REGION,
7. AP: Putin Names State Council Members.
8. The Guardian: Ian Traynor, Southern promise brightens Moscow's
9. The Russia Journal: Andrei Piontkovsky, Who wants to wail?
10. AFP: New director appointed to world-famous Bolshoi theatre.
11. The Times (UK): Alice Lagnado, Impostor musicians sound a sour note.
12. Moscow Times: Ana Uzelac, The Kursk Media Legacy.]
Financial Times (UK)
1 September 2000
Kremlin 'exerted pressure' in Russia elections
By ANDREW JACK
The Russian government exerted undue influence during the country's recent
election campaigns and "cast a dark cloud over the democratic process,"
according to an independent analysis of its most recent campaigns.
Federal, regional and local authorities together with ministries, companies
and military leaders exerted pressure on election commissions, courts,
parties and the mass media, the International Foundation for Election
Systems said in its report on Russia's 1999 parliamentary and 2000
The report stressed that "solid progress" had been made and that there were
fewer problems than in previous elections, while adding that "there are
many important areas where shortcomings exist and where significant
improvements could be made".
It said there was "much evidence of a manipulation of the levers of state
infrastructure", and highlighted the very strong showing for Vladimir Putin
in the presidential race in regions with "questionable electoral
reputations". These included Ingushetia and Dagestan, which only three
months earlier had granted more votes to the anti-Putin Fatherland-OVR party.
The report said that complex laws governing elections risked uneven
implementation around the country, and recommended the introduction of a
single, simplified electoral code.
It argued that the media should create its own self-regulatory mechanism in
place of the large number of restrictions and regulations which limited
coverage of the campaign.
A proposal that candidates, rather than editors, should be the ones
penalised if there were breaches in the legal allocations of free or paid
time was also included.
The report criticised the unclear definition of "political advertising",
which had led to many journalists being reprimanded for writing anything
other than paraphrases of the statements of candidates and parties.
It called for higher campaign spending limits, which the foundation said
were among the lowest in the world, taking into account the size of the
voting population and the length of the race and even adjusting for gross
Clearer rules on the disclosure of financial contributions to candidates,
and the introduction of a sliding scale of penalties from fines through to
disqualification for false declarations were also proposed.
September 2, 2000
EDITORIAL: 'Economics' Is Too Easy An Excuse
The fire at the Ostankino television tower "shows the shape of our vital
installations" and underscores the need for "bold economic reform." f
Vladimir Putin speaking Monday at a Cabinet meeting.
President Putin says he sees economic forces behind the tragic television
tower fire, and also behind the sinking of the Kursk submarine.
But what's most interesting about the economics underpinning both of these
catastrophes is that both the tower and the submarine were victims of a
many-year drought of public investment into public goods. Would President
Putin, then, advocate a national program of public investments f a la
Franklin D. Roosevelt? (Or, if you prefer, a la Yury Luzhkov?) If so, he
would have to look beyond the so-called German Gref program, which offers no
Many would shrug at such talk (and bridle at anything smacking of praise for
the mayor of a truly corrupt City Hall) and counter there is no money for
True enough, there isn't.
After all, look at St. Petersburg f where the Sobchak-Putin administration
decided, in its final days in power, to take out massive short-term loans
from commercial banks to help fund Mayor Anatoly Sobchak's failed bid for
re-election (Putin was his campaign chief).
By election day, June 1996, St. Petersburg had debts of 3.5 trillion rubles
(then about $580 million) f including 1.5 trillion in high-interest 90-day
"In June, July, August, September and October, if you had taken all of the
city's income and spent it on nothing but paying off these due debts f not on
health, not on schools, just on the debts f then it still would not have been
enough," said Igor Artyemev, Yabloko's top man in St. Petersburg, in an
interview this winter.
As financial chief of the post-Sobchak administration, Artyemev had to clean
up the mess. He remembers cornering key figures in the Sobchak City Hall (he
did not say who) to vent his indignation:
"I asked them: 'What were you thinking?!' They said, 'We'd have prolonged the
credit.' 'But at what cost?' I asked."
Nationally, the Boris Yeltsin election was simply the St. Petersburg practice
writ large. There were enormous German commercial loans brokered by "friend
Helmut," there were strange Xerox paper boxes filled with dollars floating
about the grounds of the Russian White House Ģ and through it all, Ostankino
and the Kursk and a million other key objects of infrastructure aged in
neglect. So if the Yeltsin-Putin crowd wants to see the "economic forces"
behind these tragedies, it has only to look into a mirror.
The Russia Journal
September 2-8, 2000
Not what the spin doctor ordered
The differences between Putin and Yeltsin PR
By VERA KUZNETSOVA
Kremlin public-relations team withers under new president.
Under Boris Yeltsin, the Kremlin lacked a strong president, but now
Yeltsinís successor, Vladimir Putin, has taken on that dynamic role. And no
matter what his detractors say, his rating is still fairly high.
Yeltsinís Russia saw a Kremlin that was unable to adequately consolidate
the countryís political forces. Now, political consolidation around Putin
has gone so far as to look indecent from the point of view of classical
democracy, and it has become hard to see any opposition on the political
Under Yeltsin, the country was shaken by economic crises. But with Putinís
arrival, the situation has smoothed out, even pensions are being raised and
an effort is being made to pay budget-sector workersí wages on time.
With Yeltsin in charge, the country lived with the threat of revolution.
But no one overthrew the tsar, because his PR kept things running. In fact,
it was this PR machine that took an inexperienced politician, Putin, and
pushed him all the way to the presidency.
These days, PR is virtually nonexistent in the Kremlin. Thatís just the way
things have turned out. Well-known PR people like Sergei Zverev (now of
Vladimir Gusinskyís MOST group), Igor Malashenko (MOST) and Igor
Shabdurasulov (adviser to Boris Berezovsky) have all left the Kremlin.
The new, young information people in the Kremlin havenít got the necessary
experience yet. PR specialist Gleb Pavlovsky drops by now and then to give
a word of advice to Putin or to Presidential Administration head Alexander
Voloshin, but not on a regular basis.
Inside the Kremlin, PR expert and deputy head of the administration
Vladislav Surkov has stopped working on the presidentís image. He is busy
now with bigger things such as managing the State Duma lower house of
parliament and Federation Council upper house. Surkov now has under his
heel the countryís legislative branch and practically all the oligarchs,
who not so long before had tried to take Putin by storm at their
roundtable. But Surkov didnít let it happen.
So it was that Putin ended up protected on all flanks ≠ political,
administrative and economic ≠ but was left completely exposed to public
opinion. The Kremlin admits as much, too. The problem is that with
Yeltsinís departure, top Kremlin officials began to show a far more casual
attitude to PR or related things like etiquette and norms of social behavior.
The logic seems to be that previously, PR was essential because it had to
cover for an ailing president. But younger, healthier Putin doesnít need
any cover, and the public will take him as he is.
So it is that Putin, trailing all the baggage of his background, finds
himself facing the public day in, day out. In Sochi, while disaster hit a
sub in the Barents Sea, Putin was unable to come up with the most basic
"Iím cutting short my holiday." And when the Ostankino TV tower burned,
Putinís way of calming the people was to say "our whole countryís in this
state" ≠ i.e., everything is about to fall apart.
Itís no easy task getting it through to Putin that there are some rituals
in life that politicians and ordinary citizens alike sometimes have to
follow, just as one is sometimes expected to attend weddings and funerals.
Itís not that he doesnít listen, just that he has a strong personality and
a mentality similar to that of military men, which is somewhat cold and
devoid of political instinct.
This is the biggest difference between Putin and Yeltsin, who used his
strong instincts to drag his way out of the most rotten-looking political
crises. Observers say that so far, Putin has been sent a series of signs
that public opinion will stay patient only so long.
The first such sign came with the arrest of Radio Liberty journalist Andrei
Babitsky, the second was the arrest of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky
and the third was the tragic loss of the Kursk submarine.
Putinís inappropriate reactions have made both the political elite and
ordinary citizens wary. Of course, the Kremlin can continue to try not to
pay much attention. The problem is that the growing irritation visible in
both Putin and Voloshin and among their team could become a boomerang that
comes back in their faces in the form of opposition public opinion.
(Vera Kuznetsova is a member of the governmental and presidential press
pools and a long-time observer of the Russian political scene.)
Russia hails U.S. decision to put NMD on hold
By Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed a
decision by U.S. President Bill Clinton to delay development of a national
missile defence system, the Kremlin said in a statement received by Reuters
``U.S. President B. Clinton's decision not to take obligations to deploy the
system of national anti-missile defence is seen in Russia as a well-thought
and responsible step,'' the statement quoted Putin as saying.
``There is no doubt this step will lead to strengthening strategic stability
and security in the whole world, and will strengthen the authority of the
United States in the eyes of the international community,'' Putin said.
Clinton, speaking at Georgetown University on Friday, effectively left to his
successor a decision on the system, which is vehemently opposed by both
Russia and China, saying more time is needed for testing. Clinton leaves
office in January.
Russia strongly opposes U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defence
system (NMD) aimed at protecting the country from a possible threat posed by
what it has dubbed ``rogue states'' like Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Russia says the NMD would breach the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile
(ABM) treaty, which limits such systems and is seen in Moscow as a keystone
for all subsequent nuclear disarmament deals.
Russia rejects U.S. proposals to amend the ABM treaty and has threatened to
reconsider its obligations under other disarmament deals if Washington goes
ahead with the system.
But earlier this year Putin said he understood U.S. concerns about potential
new nuclear threats and proposed setting up an international non-strategic
system to deal with them. Putin's proposals have so far failed to impress
RUSSIA PERSISTS IN OPPOSITION TO CHANGES IN ABM
Russian media, which commented on Clinton's statement with apparent relief,
said that Putin's staunch opposition and the concern of NATO countries played
an important role in prompting Washington to delay the decision on NMD.
``The turn of the events may be described as Russia's major foreign policy
success,'' Kommersant daily newspaper wrote.
``Although Russia has neither power, nor resources to resume confrontation
with the United States, Moscow has managed to persuade Western Europe that
such a scenario was possible,'' it said referring to Moscow's threats.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Saturday that Russia
persisted in its opposition to any changes in the ABM treaty, and would press
ahead with its own initiative.
The ministry said ways of maintaining strategic stability would be high on
the agenda of Putin's visit to Japan starting on Sunday, and of his talks
with Clinton on the fringes of the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York next
In Washington, White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said on
Friday he felt it was still possible to reach an agreement with Russia to
amend the ABM treaty despite Russian opposition.
``I do not believe that we have yet exhausted the possibilities for reaching
such an agreement,'' Berger said.
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PREVIEWS RUSSIA'S AGENDA AT UN MILLENNIUM SUMMIT
Moscow, 1st September: Russia will defend the idea of a fair, democratic
world order in which it occupies a worthy place at the upcoming United
Nations Millennium Summit in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
"Russia is going to the United Nations Millennium Summit with a
considerable load of ideas calling for the formation of a fair, democratic
world order in which Russia occupies a worthy, authoritative place," Ivanov
said on Friday [1st September] addressing the students and faculty of the
International State Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow.
"The international community has turned out to be poorly prepared for new
challenges such as terrorism," Ivanov said. Special attention will be given
to these new challenges at the September UN Millennium Summit in New York,
Speaking about Russia's foreign policy, Ivanov said that today it "is
entering a new stage" connected to the democratic reforms in the country.
"The developmental stage of Russia's modern foreign policy has for the most
part been completed," Ivanov said.
The essence of the new Russian foreign policy concept approved by President
Vladimir Putin this summer is that "foreign policy must be more
specifically oriented towards the realization of the country's national
interests," he said.
Russia's national interests on the international arena "will be defended
consistently, and when necessary, cruelly," Ivanov said, adding that "such
an approach has nothing to do with confrontation".
No matter what problems Russia may have in its relations with other
countries, "Russia's foreign policy will be based on an aspiration for
partnership and the search for mutually acceptable solutions", he said.
Russia's new foreign policy concept presupposes "rejection of the global
presence ideology," the foreign minister pointed out. "We will weigh all
the pros and cons when considering whether to join various global
projects," he said.
"The degree to which Russia is involved in such projects will depend on the
concrete benefit to our domestic priorities," he said.
At the same time, "this does not mean that Russia's foreign policy will
become more narrow", Ivanov said. "Russia will pursue an active,
multivector policy on the international arena," he said.
PUTIN VISITS VILLAGE SCHOOL IN SAMARA REGION, PROMISES COMPUTERS
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 0700 gmt 1 Sep 00
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 1st September visited a village school
in Samara Region to congratulate its teachers and pupils on the start of
the school year. He said that village schools accounted for the majority of
primary and secondary education establishments in the country. Putin also
promised that village schools would be provided with computers. The
following are excerpts from report by Russia TV, shown on 1st September:
[Presenter Anastasiya Melnikova] Many Russian politicians today
congratulated school teachers and their pupils on the festive event [the
start of the school year].
For example, [President] Vladimir Putin already visited a village school in
Samara Region. We will learn the details of this trip in a live linkup with
our correspondent, Andrey Ruminates, who is in Samara Region.
Hello, Andrey. Please tell us about the start of this happy day in Samara
[Correspondent] Hello, Anastasiya. I would like to start by saying that it
took a lot of time to select a school for Vladimir Putin to visit on the
occasion of the day of 1st September. The first suggestion was that he
visit a school in Samara itself, the capital of the Region. Schools on the
outskirts of the city were also suggested. We have information that four
schools underwent repairs for Putin's visit.
However, quite unexpectedly, on the day when Vladimir Putin arrived in
Samara, it turned out that he had chosen an ordinary rural school, the one
in the village Kuzkino. This is where we are at the moment. The president
himself left the village about 40 minutes ago.
I would like to tell you about the events. Vladimir Putin arrived at 0900
Moscow time [0500 gmt]. There were not many bodyguards. The main point is
that there was nothing ostentatious about the event itself.
The only special thing was that a new fence was erected around the school.
As for the rest, things happened as they usually happen in an ordinary
Vladimir Putin came to the front entrance. He made a brief but interesting
speech. He said that two-thirds of all schools in Russia were village
schools and this was why he decided to visit one of them.
After this, Vladimir Putin was literally overloaded with gifts of flowers.
He then went inside. In total, there are 85 school pupils in Kuzkino. Only
four children are starting primary school this year. A special lesson was
arranged for Vladimir Putin to attend - for both the first and the second
school grade [pupils], so that there were more people in the room.
After Vladimir Putin had his photograph taken together with the pupils, he
went outside. We would like to show you what the president spoke about when
visiting this ordinary secondary school...
[Putin] Our village schools - all across the country - need only 40,000
computers. Even given Russia's many other problems, this is a manageable
task. Before coming here, we held consultations with the leadership of our
country's government and decided that no less than R1bn would be allocated
for this programme and that the problem should be resolved this year, in
cooperation with the regions' leadership.
Every second computer will be bought at the expense of the federal budget,
at the expense of the Russian government.
[Correspondent] Naturally, after saying this, Vladimir Putin congratulated
the school teachers, the pupils and everyone who gathered near the village
school on the day of knowledge [marked on 1st September] and wished them
He then went to where we are standing now. One hour ago, there were many
people here - several dozen people, most of them elderly people. They all
wanted to talk to the president. The president did approach them.
A rather interesting incident took place. One woman shouted out an
invitation to Vladimir Putin. She invited him to taste her home-cooked
mushrooms. The thing is that on his way here Putin spoke with Samara Region
governor Konstantin Titov and asked him if this was a good year for
It turned out this is a good year for mushrooms. The woman just invited
Putin to come to her house and try them. She did have everything ready for
the visit. There were pickled and fried mushrooms on the table. Vladimir
Putin did try everything. He was even offered the usual drink, to mark the
festive occasion. However, by that moment, the film crew was no longer
Putin then left the house and gave the women a warm embrace. He then left
the village. This is what this day was like for Vladimir Putin...
Putin Names State Council Members
September 2, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - President Vladimir Putin on Saturday appointed the presidium
of the newly created State Council, an advisory body that will give regional
leaders a voice in the Kremlin after they lose their seats in parliament.
Putin named seven regional leaders from around Russia to the State Council's
presidium, including Mintimer Shaimiyev, president of the republic of
Tatarstan and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
The council, to be chaired by Putin, will discuss the budget and government
relations, but its functions are vague. The body won't be able to pass laws
and some regional leaders have said it will achieve little.
In July, Putin won parliamentary approval to remove the regional leaders from
the Federation Council, or upper house, and replace them with appointed
legislators by early 2002.
The move was seen as part of Putin's plan to strengthen central authority in
Russia and scale back the widespread autonomy regional leaders gained under
former President Boris Yeltsin.
September 2, 2000
Southern promise brightens Moscow's darkest summer
By Ian Traynor in Moscow
Moscow's annual melon invasion is in full swing. In shades of green and
orange, white and yellow, the fruits of central Asia have migrated north for
a few brief weeks, colonising streets and parks, occupying markets, taking
over railway stations, and brightening the dark days of Russia's black
The invaders are a bewilderingly disparate bunch. Honeydew and cantaloupe,
galia and whopping great watermelons, plus many more that have never seen the
inside of a Sainsbury's. They range from grapefruit-size to the formidable
15lb marvels shaped like ballooning rugby balls.
The latter are perfection - crisp, sweet, perfumed water, though a prize
specimen might set you back £7, more than a day's wages for many.
They arrive by the lorryload. The hawkers set up giant cages to confine the
big balloons and dole them out by the kilo.
Isaac Babel raved about the melons in his stories of childhood in
fin-de-siŤcle Odessa. Saparmurad Niyazov, the eternal president of
Turkmenistan, has just declared a new national holiday in tribute to an
export that keeps his clan in clover. From now on, Turkmens are best advised
to celebrate national melon day.
The invasion is a happy hangover from the days of empire when all Soviet
roads led to Moscow for the finest fruits of the 15 republics.
What the melon has in common with most other things which make life in this
ramshackle, dirty metropolis more bearable - sturgeon kebabs, Azerbaijani
apricots, Rima the landlady - is that it has come up to the northern city
from the south.
Take the south out of Moscow and you're stuck with a city that is a drab
dullard. Thanks to the input from the roughly 2m Armenians, Georgians,
Chechens , Tajiks, and scores of others, the dullness is kept at bay.
Not that the Moscow authorities see it that way. The police are endemically
racist towards the southerners. City hall imposes stringent registration
procedures for Moscow residence rights, regularly deporting "undesirables"
who are rarely ethnic Russians but almost invariably Russian citizens.
Rima, a raven-haired Armenian, has lived in the city since childhood. She's
middle-aged, middle-class, a self-assured businesswoman of precisely the type
that Russia needs. Last week she was hauled off a train by the police on some
bureaucratic pretext and escorted under protest to the station.
"I don't like blacks," the officer hissed at her. "You're in the wrong job
then, aren't you," Rima spat back.
Just another routine case of racism. The Chechen war and the recent bomb in
Moscow give the authorities apparent carte blanche to harass and take bribes
from the southerners.
Without them, the retail trade, markets and the catering business would
collapse. To wander around the fruit and vegetable markets is to witness a
clash of cultures pitting northern matriarchy against southern macho.
With few exceptions, the Russian country women (always women) selling fruit
and vegetables offer the tedious European diet of insipid Dutch tomatoes,
Israeli avocados and Spanish oranges. Some proper local mushrooms or
raspberries might break the monotony. The prices are fixed. The sales pitch
is a take-it-or-leave-it shrug.
By contrast, the Georgian and Armenian men (always men) in the market offer a
riot of plants and potions from fresh pomegranate juice to serrated red
leaves they call basil but which taste like aniseed. Then there are the big
gnarled scarlet tomatoes to put the Dutch ones to shame. "Uzbek", the men
whisper with a conspiratorial wink as though tomatoes are their best-kept
To get to these goodies you have to run a gauntlet of jousting, strutting
males and waste more time than you would like in haggling over the price.
It's an obligatory ritual, but a contest you can never win.
They say there are half a million illegal southerners in Moscow, as well as
half of Yerevan and half of Tbilisi. The melons won't be here for long, but
mercifully the others are here to stay.
The Russia Journal
September 2-8, 2000
SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Who wants to wail?
By Andrei Piontkovski
Kursk tragedy gave Putin chance to play father and savior.
Boris Berezovsky once said that if he wanted, he could get a monkey elected
president of Russia ≠ he has the money and he has the PR resources. Well,
he should know. But letís take a look at just who the Berezovskys,
Abramovichs, Yumashevs and Dyachenkos elected with their money and
resources on March 26, 2000.
The tragic sinking of the Kursk has opened the eyes of many whose
perception had been dulled by the Kremlinís propaganda machine, which took
a retired lieutenant-colonel and fashioned him into the Father of the
Nation and Savior of the Fatherland. During these days of disaster, the
president was able to play precisely this role ≠ that of Father and Savior
≠ to the full.
"If he had come to us without his guards, we would have torn him to
pieces," mothers and widows of the dead sailors shouted at the cameras. But
that would have been in vain, for they would have only been sent a
replacement instead, just as much elected by the people as the last.
Vladimir Putin is neither hero nor villain, he is an ordinary bureaucratic
mediocrity who suffers from the inherited birth defect common to power in
Russia ≠ moral idiocy. And this canít be cured by hanging a cross
"sanctified in Palestine" around oneís neck.
"Power is as repulsive as a barberís hands." Itís been a long time since it
has been as repulsive as over recent days. On the fourth day after disaster
struck, when the last sounds made by survivors fell silent, a couple of
dozen self-important men in short-sleeved shirts burped in smiling
satisfaction after a hearty meal at a Black Sea resort and jostled each
other before the cameras, trying to get closer to the man Himself. Himself
solemnly informed of how effectively the rescue operation was being carried
out and how the Navy placed under his command had the most modern rescue
equipment in the world. Most likely, he already knew by then that all the
sailors had died.
Only after facing what, for them, was an unexpected explosion of public
outrage, the overfed mug designers and political PR big shots belatedly
realized that something was wrong with their most august clientís precious
image. And they suddenly stopped their bootlicking gushing over the
sporting achievements of the commander in chief ≠ "Putin spent two days
learning new sports: water-skiing and water-motorcycling. He launched off
straight into third gear, giving the Black Sea fish a fright and obliging
his guards to race after him."
Instead, they pulled masks of mourning over their own and their clientís
faces, brought in some priests and icons, and for some reason suddenly
remembered the oligarchs with their Mediterranean villas. (The same
oligarchs, incidentally, who at those same villas, reached an agreement
last summer to bring Putin to power).
But it was too late. The disaster of Khodynka, where 1,200 died in a
stampede at Tsar Nicholas IIís coronation, did not blacken the tsarís
entire reign, it was the fact that no one cancelled the ball held the
evening after Khodynka.
Someone among the Pavlovskys and kin is no doubt proud of the words "I want
to wail," placed with success in the presidentís mouth and uttered by him
with well-rehearsed expressiveness.
But why did he not wail while frightening Black Sea fish with his
motorcycle as the submariners slowly died of suffocation? Why did he not
wail as thousands of civilians ≠ Chechens and Russians, old people, women
and children ≠ died under a hail of artillery fire? Why does he not wail
when every week, hundreds of his soldiers are killed and wounded in a war
begun to get him elected?
Or did he really feel like wailing only when he felt for the first time a
threat to his rating and launched into primitive and indecent attacks on
the press, baring his professional instincts?
Indeed, itís enough to want to wail looking at the hopelessness and
helplessness of a society run by cruel and inhuman, lying and cowardly,
greedy and incompetent leaders who take Russia from disaster to disaster.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center of Strategic Research.)
New director appointed to world-famous Bolshoi theatre
MOSCOW, Sept 2 (AFP) -
Russia's world-famous Bolshoi theatre, struggling to maintain its prestige,
got a new director Saturday after a dramatic week in which the previous
incumbent had been sacked "Soviet-style" by presidential decree.
Anatoly Iksanov, head of the Kultura television channel and formerly in
charge of the Grand Theatre in St Petersburg, will replace the ousted
Vladimir Vasilyev, Russian deputy prime minister Valentina Matvienko was
quoted as saying by Interfax.
She made the announcement during a meeting of the Bolshoi theatre committee
held at the landmark opera house in Moscow's Teatralnaya Square.
The theatre, which opened in 1780, houses the famed Bolshoi ballet troupe and
an opera company but has struggled to achieve artistic and commercial success
in recent years.
In contrast, Valery Gergiyev, the dynamic 47-year-old artistic director of St
Petersburg's Mariinsky theatre, also known as the Kirov, has won accolades
worldwide for his innovative productions.
Iksanov had "an impeccable reputation in the theatre world," Culture Minister
Mikhail Shvydkoi was quoted as saying by Interfax.
But he was also the right person for the Bolshoi post because he had "a lot
of experience working as a director of a theatre that has experienced
Earlier this week the daily Kommersant newspaper criticised the sacking of
Vasilyev which, it said, was performed "in the best traditions of the secret
Shvydkoi has promised the culture ministry, to which the decree entrusted
future responsibility for the Bolshoi, will not oversee the Bolshoi Theater
"in the Soviet sense of the word."
Matvienko also announced Saturday the appointment of conductor Gennady
Rozhdestvensky as the Bolshoi's artistic director, and Alexander Voroshilo as
assistant general director.
On August 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree sacking
Vasilyev, 60, a former Bolshoi star who had held the high-profile post for
five years. The decree also fired executive director Vladimir Kokonin.
In addition to its widely-publicised travails at board-room level, the
Bolshoi is in the middle of an ambitious redevelopment programme.
Construction of the opera house's new wing should be completed by January 1,
2002, while in the summer of 2002 the wholesale reconstruction of the main
building is planned to start.
The Times (UK)
2 September 2000
Impostor musicians sound a sour note
FROM ALICE LAGNADO IN MOSCOW
A GROUP of unemployed Russian musicians masqueraded as the Moscow
Philharmonic Orchestra when they toured Hong Kong, it was revealed yesterday.
An orchestra calling itself the Moscow Philharmonic played in Hong Kong
between August 7 and 13. Thousands of people paid up to $31 each (£19) to see
what was in fact a collection of out-of-work musicians and players
moonlighting from other orchestras.
The scandal provoked outrage within Moscow's musical elite, one of the last
bastions of the Russian intelligentsia, which is split into those who want to
sell music like any other product and those dedicated to their art.
Dmitri Yablonsky, principal guest conductor with the real Moscow
Philharmonic, said: "It is a huge scandal, very upsetting." He said that
those responsible knew exactly what they were doing.
Aleksandr Mashkovich, the director of the Moscow Philharmonic, one of
Russia's top five orchestras, was disappointed but not surprised. He told The
Times: "We suffer from this both in a creative and material sense. We cannot
go to Hong Kong for the next two years. In the creative sense they play very
badly. This is very simple to organise. You can register an orchestra, call
it the Outer Space orchestra, the Galactic Orchestra, whatever. You find some
musicians - there are plenty looking for a job in Moscow - do one tour or CD
and close down again."
Mr Mashkovich, 51, said that "fake" orchestras were a growing problem in
Russia where musicians get an average of just £240 for an 11-day tour -
playing every night - and so are desperate to go on any extra tours they can.
State orchestras are funded by a government budget that allocates only 0.5
per cent to the arts.
Posters advertising the phoney orchestras are a giveaway to Russian
musicians, but hard to spot for the casual concert-goer. "In one country I
saw a poster advertising a White Army folk troupe with soloists from the
Bolshoi Theatre. That's hilarious to any Russian who has an idea about these
things," he said. Mr Mashkovich said that he was not sure whether the
orchestra would sue, but that he intended to write to the Hong Kong Cultural
Centre, where the concert was held, to complain.
"We will be morally satisfied if the press reveals what really happened, so
we can keep our honest name. It will be a good lesson for others who want to
do the same," he said.
He did not condemn the musicians who moonlighted from his orchestra to join
the fake performers, as they receive wages so small that they struggle to eat
on tours abroad. Last November another Russian orchestra, the National
Philharmonic, was forced to play Brahms outside a McDonald's restaurant in
London because their meagre funds had run out. The 86 musicians were living
on bread and cheese and living ten to a room in hostels. London businesses
took pity on the musicians and paid their travel bills for the rest of the
Despite difficulties that make the much-bemoaned life of London orchestras
look positively luxurious, Russia has a reputation for rigorous classical
training and still turns out musical stars such as Mikhail Pletnev, the
pianist, and Maxim Vengerov, the violinist, who now commands fees of £14,000
for a London appearance. He played with the English Chamber Orchestra in the
current BBC Proms season to rave reviews.
Two years ago the New Names charity, based in Moscow, introduced gifted young
Russians to a stunned Barbican audience left wondering why Britain is unable
to produce so many geniuses. The only comfort for Russian musicians who are
struggling to make ends meet are the enormously appreciative audiences in
their home country.
Concerts are attended by everyone from small children to teenagers. Russians
will queue long for tickets and demand encore after encore.
September 2, 2000
The Kursk Media Legacy
By Ana Uzelac
More than a Russian military disaster, the sinking of the Kursk nuclear
submarine last month was all the nation could talk about for 10 horrible
days. An angry and anguished nation spoke out, blasting its government and
military brass, while the media raced to record often conflicting reports of
the tragic events. Ana Uzelac examined the 10 extraordinary days of the Kursk
media coverage, from the moment the sinking of the sub was first made public,
to the president's meeting with the grieving relatives of the 118 sailors
It is a picture Russia will remember for a long time to come. After days of
unsuccessful rescue efforts, the hand of a Norwegian deep-sea diver opened
the emergency hatch on the sunken Kursk nuclear submarine, discovering
nothing but water.
Minutes later, a familiar face filled screens all over the country. After
days of hourly reports from the disaster zone, RTR's Arkady Mamontov broke
the bad news to a nation glued to their television sets: The path to the
sub's escape hatch was flooded and so, more than likely, was the rest of the
submarine. All hope that any of the lives of the 118 men aboard could be
saved was gone.
It seemed only natural that the news should come from Mamontov. He, after
all, had been the one standing on the deck of the navy's Peter the Great all
week, offering television viewers unprecedented live coverage from the
Barents Sea of the biggest Russian military disaster in the last decade.
It was an amazing picture: a television crew on board a military cruiser, its
cameras pointed toward the ships of the Northern Fleet, its correspondent
reporting live. For a few moments it seemed as if freedom of the press had
reached Russian waters f if not its shores.
But on dry land, everything was different. For hundreds of Mamontov's
colleagues, covering the Kursk tragedy boiled down to evading hostile
military checkpoints and dragging out bits and pieces of information from the
Northern Fleet's reticent press service. The only thing that united Mamontov
and his less-privileged colleagues was the mishmash of lies, evasions and
half-truths issued by officials who were overwhelmed by a crisis beyond their
The list of falsehoods grew longer with every passing day. It started on
Monday, Aug. 14, when the navy reported the disaster occurred a day later
than it really had. Officials said at first they had been in radio contact
with the crew and then changed the story to say the crew had been heard
tapping on the submarine's hull. Later still, they admitted contact had been
lost from the very start. Even President Vladimir Putin tried to convince the
sailors' distraught relatives that Russia had accepted foreign offers to help
rescue the ship at least 24 hours earlier than it actually had.
"They [state officials] were lying, deceiving and hushing-up just like they
did in Soviet times," said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Moscow-based media
watchdog the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. "What made it
absurd is the fact that everything around them has changed. The country is
different and so is its media."
Indeed, the central newspapers that are so bitterly divided over many
political and economic issues suddenly found a united voice. They all
demanded answers from the military and political leadership to the same
questions: Why weren't offers of foreign help accepted immediately? Why was
the navy unequipped to conduct the rescue operation? And why did the
president choose to stay on vacation in Sochi instead of taking charge of the
In a banner headline above a picture of Putin in a navy cap, the usually
pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily wrote: "False information about the tragedy of the
Kursk is Sinking the Military's Reputation," and that story warned that "The
Admiral's Helplessness is Suffocating the Kursk Crew."
The twice-weekly Novaya Gazeta published the same photo with another bitter
headline: "Putin, it turns out, was overboard on the days of our national
tragedy." And Moskovsky Komsomolets published three photos, one of a tanned
Putin in Sochi, another of Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev playing billiards
and one of Vladimir Korayedov with the caption: "They don't sink."
"Reading [the papers], I had a feeling I was back in the early '90s," said
Panfilov. "The press was criticizing the government openly and without fear.
After years of bowing to different political interest groups, they remembered
they still knew how to be free."
The papers published everything they could lay their hands on f analyses,
pictures of submarines, comments from retired naval officers, portraits of
the sailors' families and acerbic editorials scorning both the military and
the president. But the greatest coup within the press corps came in the form
of a simple list. On the fifth day of the tragedy, Komsomolskaya Pravda
printed the names of the 118 sailors trapped inside the submarine, explaining
that the paper had bought the list from a naval officer for 18,000 rubles
"From the very first day, we tried to get hold of the list of sailors on
board. If a ship sinks, we should know who is on it. And they wouldn't even
phone the families and tell them their relatives were there," said Igor Kots,
Komsomolskaya Pravda's deputy editor. "They simply refused to give out the
information. So we stopped asking questions and filing requests and did what
you do in this country f we bought it for 18,000 rubles."
For days to come, this list was the only source of information for the
relatives of the sailors on board. "In Russia, everything is upside down,"
Kots said. "Instead of being informed by the government in the first hours
after the disaster, the relatives had to find out their close ones were on
the ship days later and from the media."
What Komsomolskaya Pravda did was "heroic," said Panfilov. "It said more
about this country than all the other reports together."
But it was largely the print media, which has much less influence than
broadcasters, that acted so "heroically."
"Only television has the power to convey or influence public opinion in
Russia," said Panfilov. "They were the ones put on a real test."
And according to Alexei Pankin, editor of the Sreda monthly, which reports on
the media, none of Russia's three main television stations f state controlled
RTR, public television ORT and the commercial channel NTV f passed this test.
"None of them spoke with the public interest in mind," he said. "They didn't
try to open a public discussion on the key issues. As always, they tried to
achieve their own goals f that is to say the goals of their owners. And this
was also the case with the Kursk. For the majority, this was an attempt to
take their revenge on Putin, who had offended them before.
"This is the wrong way to serve the public interest," Pankin added. "It's
cynical when the media accuse the military while they are is a part of the
problem. They don't pay taxes, so the state has no money to maintain the
infrastructure. And they don't send their sons to the army, so there are less
and less educated, intelligent soldiers who would prevent mistakes from being
Panfilov agreed in part with this assessment, but said there was a slight
difference. For RTR and ORT, the public interest came third after their own
corporate interests and those of the state. For NTV, he says, it came second
f after their corporate interests but before the state's.
"You could say that NTV was still closer to their public than any other
television station," Panfilov said. "Only there you could hear both the
official point of view and the criticism."
Indeed, NTV did have some corporate motives in mind while they were covering
the Kursk tragedy. More than once, they reminded viewers that government
officials refused to give them access to vital information. "It was the most
difficult posting in my whole carrier," said NTV's seasoned war reporter
Yevgeny Kirichenko of his seven days in Murmansk. "We were banging our heads
against the wall all the time."
"We were allowed only four to five hours a day recording sessions in Vidyaevo
[where the officers' families lived]," he said. "My crew was officially
accredited and accompanied by the lower-ranking naval officers, but we were
still constantly stopped at every corner, our accreditation checked and
rechecked millions of times."
On the day the president visited Vidyayevo and met with the sailors'
families, the NTV crew was barred from entering the base without any
explanation. "We had all our papers in order and nobody even questioned their
validi ty. The soldier at the checkpoint at the entrance to the base simply
said f 'Today I have orders not to let you through.' And that was it,"
As a result, RTR's camera crew not only had exclusive access to report from
the rescue scene, but also was the only crew allowed to shoot Putin's meeting
with the families of the sailors killed in the accident. The footage of the
meeting shown on RTR lasted only a few minutes and gave the picture of a
tense, but basically friendly meeting between distraught families and a
consoling president. This was quite a different picture from what actually
took place, according to transcripts published later by Andrei Kolesnikov in
the Kommersant-Vlast weekly. This excerpt shows the atmosphere was heated,
with relatives shouting and demanding to know why foreign help was not
accepted immediately, when the bodies will be recovered, and why the
president waited so long to come and talk to them.
But a technical glitch on the part of RTR helped outside journalists see the
censorship process in action. Since the station did not have a satellite
transmitter in Vidyayevo to feed material back to Moscow, the RTR crew had to
employ the help of their German colleagues from RTL television. That crew got
a glimpse of what happened in the meeting and what was shown on television.
"There was practically no press in the hall where the meeting took place,"
explained RTL Moscow bureau chief Christoph Sagurna and his colleague
Cristoph Wanner of the Deuitsche Welle radio.
"The only camera that was there belonged to RTR. At the same time, the head
of the state broadcasting company, Oleg Dobrodeyev, was personally sitting in
the RTL transmission van, controlling every frame that was sent to Moscow,"
the German correspondents said.
"He was sitting in our van looking for the pictures where the atmosphere was
more or less calm," Sagurna said. Earlier, he told NTV they had witnessed
moments of agitation among the relatives on the tapes Dobrodeyev was
But RTR's Mamontov, who was also present at the meeting, denies that the
coverage of the meeting and his live reporting from the navy ship were
censored. "It's nonsense! There was no censorship on the boat. It was live
coverage f everything that was said into the camera was immediately
transmitted. And I never got orders not to ask tricky questions," he said,
adding that the meeting between the sailors' families and the president was
accurately represented by his station.
And although Dobrodeyev has denied repeatedly that he struck a deal for
exclusive footage with the presidential administration and the military
concerning the contents of the Kursk coverage, media watchers are more
"Mamontov was alone there. He was given information by officers whose only
task was to hide the truth," Panfilov summed up. "He was simply channeling
the state-controlled information. The only exclusive right he got was to show
the surface of the Barents Sea from different angles."
For Kommersant's Kolesnikov, who has co-authored a book about Putin, the
behavior of the state officials came as no surprise.
"They made news pools the Russian way," he said. "RTR was the only station
that made a deal with the government. The others refused to do it, so they
were not allowed on the ship."
As for the other major networks, their critical approach to covering the
crisis inspired the ire of Putin. Disregarding the idea the press might have
been working in the public's interest, the president accused them of
political blackmail. He also accused their owners of "destroying the country
and the army" by tax evasion.
"The pattern of their work and their logic is simple," Putin explained to the
relatives of the dead soldiers during their meeting in Vidyayevo, using a
vocabulary disturbingly like the one his ex-colleagues from the KGB used
throughout the Communist regime. "They want to influence the masses and show
the army and the political leadership of the country that we need them, that
they had us hooked, that we should be afraid of them, that we should listen
to them and let them plunder the country, the army and the fleet. That is
their real aim.
"Unfortunately we cannot order them to stop," the president complained.
"Although that would be the right thing to do."
Russian public opinion does not seem to share the bitterness of
media-watchers or that of the president. According to the latest opinion poll
conducted by the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research, or VTsIOM, 53
percent of population thinks the media "played a positive role" during the
Kursk crisis. However, this does not necessarily reflect poorly on the
president. As many as 40 percent believe Putin also played a positive role,
in spite of the fact that he was harshly criticized for remaining on vacation
after the submarine sank.
"It would have been even less had he not gone to Vidyayevo to see the
relatives," VTsIOM director Yury Levada said. "As it was, he softened them up
Levada believes that the public's approval of the media is very well
grounded. "They don't praise them for nothing," he smiles. "They did very
good work that can have some important consequences."
The most immediate of these, Levada said, was forcing the government to
accept offers of foreign aid to rescue the sub. Later, they were pressed into
recovering the bodies. "The atmosphere the media created forced the
government to invite foreign help [to recover the bodies]. That surely
wouldn't have happened without them," Levada said.
But whether or not the media's outcry during the Kursk disaster has a longer
lasting effect is of some debate among experts. Levada believes that it will
have a positive, long-term effect. "The media caught state officials in quite
a few lies and that's very useful. They reminded the people that they
shouldn't trust the government blindly. And they've been trusting it in the
past year far more than is healthy."
But other media-experts and journalists fear another consequence of the
openly critical Kursk coverage. "I'm expecting only further pressure against
a media that dares to criticize the government," said Panfilov. "Putin truly
believes that it was the press that complicated matters with Kursk f it made
too much noise, put him in an unpleasant situation, spoiled his image. So he
will take his revenge."
Almost as if in grim confirmation of Panfilov's words, one week after the
Kursk tragedy the tax police visited the offices of Ekho Moskvy radio
station, which belongs to the same media group as NTV and is often very
critical of the government.
Kommersant's Kolesnikov, who was one of the few journalists attending Putin's
meeting with the sailors' relatives, agreed with Panfilov. "I saw Putin after
the meeting in Vidyayevo, and he was furious," said Kolesnikov. "I was
stupefied by the words he used to describe his attitude toward the media. His
opinion of them changed for the worse and he will not treat them kindly.
Freedom of the press will surely not benefit from that."
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