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Johnson's Russia List
14 September 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Andrei Shukshin, Russia sets out to tackle "2003 problem."
2. Moscow Times: Pavel Felgenhauer, 'Reform' of Military a Sham.
3. AFP: Russian doctrine juggles national security and information
4. RFE/RL: Sophie Lambroschini, Journalists Defend Joining Berezovsky's
5. gazeta.ru: Atomic Minister Substantiates Putin’s Nuclear Initiative.
6. The Nation: Stephen F. Cohen, American Journalism and Russia's
Russia sets out to tackle "2003 problem"
By Andrei Shukshin
MOSCOW, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Russia's Parliamentary leaders and President
Vladimir Putin agreed on Wednesday to embark on a three-year crash course to
thwart what they said was an anticipated chain of disasters due to hit the
country in 2003.
"(These are) issues of extraordinary importance, strategic issues which may
degenerate into a serious threat for the existence, I want to stress this,
for the existence of Russia," former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told
Some experts have singled out 2003 as the year when three problems -- a big
debt bill, eroding infrastructure and an ageing population -- could combine
to throw Russia into turmoil.
Primakov, leader of the centre-left OVR parliamentary faction, was one of
several top members of the State Duma lower house of parliament to meet Putin
in the Kremlin.
In addition to the "2003 problem," the agenda included next year's budget and
media freedom and ownership. Both sides agreed urgent measures had to be
taken to avert the looming disaster.
Problems of Russia's crumbling industrial base were highlighted last month
when a nuclear-powered submarine sank with the loss of all 118 crew on board
and a day-long fire gutted Moscow's Ostankino television tower, a national
Putin said at the time the fire was proof of the dangerous condition of the
A power shortage last weekend also forced officials to shut down nuclear
reactors, including those at a giant, top-secret fuel reprocessing plant
whose boss said that only staff discipline prevented a major crisis.
PRO-KREMLIN PARTY BROUGHT UP THE 2003 PROBLEM
Boris Gryzlov, leader of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction which was the first to
raise the issue, said Russia would also have to deal in 2003 with a colossal
$17 billion foreign debt payout and a massive population shrinkage.
Gryzlov said the problems had already been discussed with cabinet ministers
and the parliamentarians had agreed with Putin to set up a commission to
tackle the issue head-on.
"The question was discussed at length and the president approved our
initiative and said he would dispatch representatives of his administration
to the working group," Gryzlov said after the Kremlin meeting.
He said the commission could start work as early as Monday and suggested the
government could alleviate the crisis by using budget windfalls, such as
extra revenue from higher oil prices, on paying off straight away debts
maturing in 2003.
Some observers said the 2003 deadline was rather artificial and might serve
Dmitry Pinsker, Kremlin-watcher for the liberal weekly Itogi, said Kremlin
spin doctors planned to make a fuss over the initiatives, in part to answer
critics who charged them with inaction during the Kursk submarine disaster
Economic analysts say Russia's financial and infrastructure problems are
real, but picking a date is somewhat arbitrary.
"A lot here is artificial," Oleg Vyugin, a former first deputy finance
minister and now executive vice president at Troika Dialog investment bank,
Russia is due to pay slightly more than $16 billion in debt payments that
year, compared with $11.3 billion due in 2001, he said. But there was still
plenty of room for restructuring.
"Everyone knows that the infrastructure is deteriorating, but that does not
mean that this will all happen in 2003. The television tower burned up this
year," he said.
Al Breach, an analyst with Goldman Sachs, said investors would applaud reform
talk, however artificial the deadline.
"For these guys to be thinking three years ahead is pretty good," he said.
September 14, 2000
DEFENSE DOSSIER: 'Reform' of Military a Sham
By Pavel Felgenhauer
Last week, the authorities announced that the nation's armed forces would be
slashed by around a third over the next three years, to 850,000 men from the
present standing strength of 1.2 million. Many have implied that this
decision was a direct result of the tragic sinking of the Kursk nuclear
submarine last monthf as if President Vladimir Putin was suddenly struck by
the appalling state of the military and decided to begin reforming it
Of course, our bureaucracy never moves that quickly. The idea to cut the
number of servicemen has been discussed seriously for many months, and the
final decision had nothing to do with the tragedy in the Barents Sea: It was
made a day before the sinking of the Kursk at a meeting of the Security
Council chaired by Putin.
A year ago, federal forces were massing near the borders of Chechnya in
preparation for an invasion, and it turned out that the Defense Ministry
could muster fewer than 60,000 men f including paratroopers and marines sent
in to fight as common infantry in the mountains. The force was beefed up to
100,000 with units from other militaries: the Interior Ministry, the Border
Guard and posses formed by regional police forces, among others. Kremlin
insiders say Putin was shocked to know the nation could muster so little
field fighting troops. The decision to accelerate military reform was made
then, but it took a year of interdepartmental strife to hammer out the first
In 1991, Russia inherited 2.8 million Soviet military personnel. Since then,
the Defense Ministry has been cutting numbers: 2.1 million by 1993; 1.7
million by 1995; 1.5 million by 1997; 1.2 million by 1999. In other words,1.6
million have been already cut, which dwarfs the newly announced 350,000
reduction. But has this cut been beneficial? The military has disintegrated
into a mass of men that walk around in uniforms but cannot be sent into
battle under any circumstances. Will the latest cuts make a difference?
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia has kept the real number of its
soldiers secret. "Staff positions," not real men, are slated to be cut from
1.2 million to 850,000. But will the overall number of personnel change?
Thousands of "staff positions" in the army, designated to conscripts or
lower-ranking officers, are unoccupied at any given moment, while hundreds of
thousands of military officers on active duty are "temporarily" without a
commission or are working in other governmental departments or even in
business firms. For a decade, staff positions in the Defense Ministry were
cut on a regular basis, while the number of government chinovniky, or
bureaucrats, was growing. Today, there are five generals serving as viceroys
in the newly formed federal districts f with many active service officers
comprising their staff. Perhaps not all the cuts of the last decade were
In 1997, Yury Baturin, defense aid for then-President Boris Yeltsin,
disclosed that the overall number of military personnel in all government
departments was 2.6 million. At the same time, the number of "civilian
employees" in the Defense Ministry and other departments was 1.5 million. On
top of that, the number of police personnel, including paramilitary OMON
units, is estimated at 1.5 million. (The true number of police is secret;
most policemen are former soldiers). Since 1997, the number of the nation's
military personnel might have dwindled, but to what extent? What are the real
Many retired officers (and some retire in their 40s) continue to work on
military staffs as "civilian personnel," adding pay to a military pension.
Former Defense Minister Marshal Dmitry Yazov today is a "civilian employee"
of the General Staff. Former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev is still in
active military service (four years after being ousted from his top post),
receiving all active-service allowances and serving in the arms-trading
company Rosvooruzheniye. And no one has heard of Putin's officially retiring
from active service since he headed the Federal Security Service in 1999.
But at the same time, plans are circulating in the Kremlin to form divisions
of a praetorian presidential (republican) guard, loyal to Putin personally.
The reduction of the military for a decade was not a "reform," but a sham;
its main result, increased militarization of government. While precise
numbers of military personnel and detailed items of military spending remain
top secret, the sham will continue.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.
Russian doctrine juggles national security and information rights
MOSCOW, Sept 13 (AFP) -
Russia published an online version Wednesday of its new doctrine on
information security, 24 hours after President Vladimir Putin signed into law
the 46-page document "defending national interests".
The wide-ranging doctrine drafted by the Security Council was approved by the
Russian leader in the wake of an increasingly bitter struggle between the
Kremlin and the country's independent media for control of the airwaves.
"By security of information, we mean the capacity to defend national
interests in the information sector as defined by checks and balances
safeguarding the interests of the individual, of society and of the state,"
the doctrine says in a preamble.
The document goes on to endorse the basic right of access to information
permitting "the spiritual renewal of Russia, the continuation and enhancement
of society's moral values, its traditions of patriotism and humanism, and the
country's cultural and scientific potential."
Analysts noted Wednesday that such a ringing endorsement of the information
age echoed ideas of Russian renewal voiced by Putin in the run-up to last
March's presidential election.
In recent weeks, however, the Russian leader has been accused of
orchestrating a crackdown on independent media which have criticised the
authorities for mishandling a sequence of recent catastrophes.
Last week, the controversial tycoon Boris Berezovsky declared that he was
relinquishing his 49 percent stake in the ORT television channel due to
Kremlin threats of imprisonment.
In June, rival media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky spent three nights in a Moscow
jail after the government accused him of cheating the state out of 10 million
dollars (11.3 million euros). The case was later dropped.
Along with ORT, which is 51-percent owned by the Russian state, Gusinsky's
private NTV channel attacked the Russian president last month for his
insensitive response to the Kursk submarine tragedy.
However, Putin vowed to safeguard the independence of Russia's mass media,
and to prevent NTV being nationalised, at a meeting with State Duma lower
house of parliament leaders, news agencies cited one of his key allies saying
Russian lawmaker Boris Nemtsov told Interfax he had warned the president at
the meeting that "the electronic mass media must not be controlled by the
Putin replied that the state "needs an independent mass media, and that
includes independent television," according to Nemtsov, who heads the Union
of Rightist Forces in the Duma.
The full Russian text of the doctrine on information security can be
consulted on the Internet at www.scrf.gov.ru.
Russia: Journalists Defend Joining Berezovsky's ORT Trust
By Sophie Lambroschini
A controversial offer by Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky to give
journalists partial control over a television station is forcing the media
to ask a difficult question: Does working with a man better known for
manipulating the media than supporting it automatically mean a journalist
is compromising his integrity?
Moscow, 12 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- When Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky
offered last week to give control of his 49 percent stake in ORT television
to a trusteeship of around 20 people, mainly journalists, the plan was
dismissed by many as a public relations stunt.
After all, Berezovsky -- one of the country's wealthiest businessmen and a
player of behind-the-scenes Kremlin politics -- is often considered more a
manipulator of the press than a defender of it.
But when popular and controversial ORT commentator Sergei Dorenko was taken
off the air last Saturday after criticizing the Kremlin over its handling
of the Kursk submarine disaster, the offer took an a more urgent aspect.
ORT is 51-percent owned by the state and Dorenko's dismissal was widely
seen as backed by the Kremlin.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media analyst Anna Kachkayeva is one of 14
people who have accepted the offer to become trustees. Although Kachkayeva
does not work for Berezovsky, more than half of those who have accepted are
already working for Berezovsky-controlled media.
Kachkayeva justifies her decision by saying that any intimidation of the
media by the state should be fought -- even if the victim is Berezovsky.
She also says censorship in any form, including silencing the controversial
Dorenko, is unacceptable.
NTV anchor and Director Yevgeny Kisilyov agrees, although he has rejected
the offer of a place on the ORT board since he works for competing
Media-MOST. He says calls to protect the press should not be ignored simply
because they come from a controversial figure like Berezovsky. Speaking
yesterday on his weekly analytical program "Itogi," Kisilyov asked: "Should
we stop washing our hands just because Berezovsky makes the soap?"
Kisilyov said that although Berezovsky is an unlikely defender of a free
press, the tycoon is right when he speaks about a growing threat to media
freedom. Therefore, argues Kisilyov, if Berezovsky's offer can have a
positive effect, it should not be rejected.
Kachkayeva says the journalists sitting on ORT's board could act as
watchdogs, bringing greater transparency to the station. She points out
that because ORT would remain majority state-owned, the Russian taxpayer
has a right to that sort of information. She adds that joining the trust
does not compromise her, because she receives no remuneration and can
resign at any time she chooses.
But while Kachkayeva and others regard the trust as a chance to inform the
public on the workings of the media, other journalists say they see working
for wealthy oligarchs only as the "lesser of two evils." They say that in
Russia today the only alternative to oligarch-controlled media is
state-controlled media -- and therefore they prefer the oligarchs.
Otto Latsis, who has agreed to be an ORT trustee, is a commentator for
Novye Ivestia, a newspaper controlled by Berezovsky. He says that total
journalistic independence in Russia is impossible because "a newspaper or a
television channel cannot finance itself." He says therefore that defending
a Berezovsky-controlled media outlet against the state is the lesser evil.
Sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky tells RFE/RL that Latsis's "lesser-evil"
logic is typical of Russian journalists who have lived through the
transition from Soviet censorship to the present. He says many of these
journalists believe that if the oligarchs lose their influence, that will
serve to tighten the screws on press freedom.
Kagarlitsky says that he can understand this "lesser-evil" logic, but he
believes compromising with the oligarchs is counter-productive because he
says the tycoons endorse the prevailing system instead of fighting it.
"It's not only about compromise, it's also about giving up some of your
moral principles. [By accepting the lesser evil] you lower your moral
expectations. The bigger evil is more obvious, [but] it will provoke an
opposition that could destroy it, while [compromising] with the lesser evil
will let our ordeal last forever."
In earlier debates on the role of journalists in Russia's press wars,
journalists themselves have acknowledged the fact that they have not always
been very principled.
When Media-MOST oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky was arrested in June, the
company's NTV television station admitted that it had compromised its
independence during the 1996 presidential elections. NTV, like most other
newspapers and TV stations at the time, had heeded the Kremlin's advice to
give biased coverage to Boris Yeltsin as the "lesser evil" of allowing the
Communists to win.
September 13, 2000
Atomic Minister Substantiates Putin’s Nuclear Initiative
On Tuesday the head of Russia’s Atomic Power Ministry Yevgeny Adamov held a
press conference to further explain the objectives of the “nuclear
initiative” proposed by Vladimir Putin at the United Nations Millennium
Summit in New York. The ambitious proposal is unique in so far as Russian
science has taken the political initiative.
Given that it was Russian nuclear power experts who conceived and
elaborated the proposal put forward by Vladimir Putin at the UN summit in
New York, Adamov said he felt somewhat insulted by the media’s lack of
attention to the global initiative. He said the proposal could exert a
major influence not only on politics and the environment, but also on the
The minister began the briefing by complaining that the Russian press had
failed to pay due attention to the new “nuclear initiative” proposed by
Vladimir Putin at the UN Millennium Summit.
Adamov said that the reports that had emerged were written by “people who
could not distinguish an electrode from an electron, or reactivity from
Adamov noted that Vladimir Putin’s proposal had been received with interest
all over the world and that the International Atomic Energy Agency and is
on the list of top priority issues in the agenda of the agency’s summit to
open next Monday.
The essence of the initiative, reportedly the result of 15 year’s work,
comes down to three vital points. At least for Vladimir Putin and other
leaders of ‘nuclear power states’, the political aspect is the most
The Russian atomic experts’proposal, endorsed by Putin, calls for a ban on
the deployment of weapon-grade materials such as enriched uranium and
plutonium. They claim universally adopted, the ban would make the
proliferation of nuclear weapons practically impossible.
As for the environmental aspect of the proposal, the scientists claim that
if all resources were concentrated exclusively on the ‘peaceful’ use of
nuclear materials, new technology could ensure that atomic energy would be
made absolutely safe.
Adamov explained that this could be achieved through arranging so-called
closed cycle, whereby detrimental elements would be almost completely
burnt, which would ensure that the radiation levels of nuclear waste not
would not exceed natural radiation levels. Adamov also claimed that the
environment would benefit enormously from a full conversion to nuclear power.
As for the economic aspect, according to the experts’ estimations, nuclear
power is potentially far cheaper than any oil, gas and other recyclable
Admittedly, uranium reserves are also limited, but, according to the
experts, this is no big problem for closed cycle generation would provide
for the use of recycled nuclear materials, thus saving reserves and
significantly cutting the cost of nuclear energy.
The Atomic Ministry is not demanding any subsidies from the state budget.
The Ministry has enough funds to conduct large-scale scientific research.
However, according to the Ministry’s forecasts, if power stations are not
duly maintained and further developed, in some 25 years their resources
will be fully depleted and thus the Ministry would be deprived of its
source of income. If the existing nuclear power stations are renovated,
their lifespan will be increased, but production capacities will steadily
decrease. Thus the Atomic Ministry has put forward the plan to implement
new technologies that would provide for a three-fold increase in the
production of nuclear power within a 30-years period.
The concept is a component of the “nuclear power development strategy of
Russia in the 1st half of the 21st century”, approved by the government at
the end of May, and now Putin.
The main problem with nuclear power production is the danger of accidents.
At the conference the chief of the Atomic Ministry said that in recent
years the danger has decreased, but still it is much higher compared to
other energy sources. The Minister also noted, that “notwithstanding the
low probability, the Chernobyl disaster happened all the same.” Adamov is
convinced that in the past years the situation has improved and, in fact,
there is nothing to worry about.
The Minister calmly replied to the journalists’ question concerning the
shut down of a reactor at the Beloyarsky nuclear power plant last Saturday.
Adamov said the reactor was shut down after a power surge. No radiations
leaks were reported. The Minister blamed the incident on RAO Unified Energy
Yevgeny Adamov is far more concerned about “the incomprehension within
society” about the necessity of implementing new technologies. The Minister
drew a comparison between nuclear fuel and electricity. “Electricity is
also potentially very dangerous.” He said he hoped that people would get
used nuclear power in the same way as we have become used to electricity.
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2000
From: Peggy Suttle <email@example.com>
Subject: The Nation: Cohen/American Journalism and Russia's Tragedy
This article is adapted from Stephen Cohen's new book,
Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia,
which is being published this month by W.W. Norton.
October 2, 2000
American Journalism and Russia's Tragedy
By Stephen F. Cohen
With only a few exceptions, America's professional
Russia-watchers-policy-makers, financial advisers, scholars and, not least,
journalists-committed malpractice throughout the nineties. They claimed to
know the cure for what ailed Russia after the Soviet breakup in 1991, gave
regular assurances about the ongoing treatment and, while noting occasional
relapses, predicted a full recovery.
Their prescriptions, reports and prognoses have turned out to be completely
wrong. Nearly a decade later, Russia is afflicted by the worst economic
depression in modern history, corruption so extensive that capital flight
far exceeds all foreign loans and investment, and a demographic catastrophe
unprecedented in peacetime. The result has been a massive human tragedy.
Among other calamities, some 75 percent of Russians now live below or
barely above the poverty line; 50-80 percent of school-age children are
classified as having a physical or mental defect; and male life-expectancy
has plunged to less than sixty years. And, ominously, a fully nuclearized
country and its devices of mass destruction have, for the first time in
history, been seriously destabilized, the Kursk submarine disaster in
August being yet another example.
Underlying all the American misreporting and false analyses of the nineties
was an enthusiastic embrace of the Clinton Administration's ill-conceived
policy-a virtual crusade to transform post-Communist Russia under President
Boris Yeltsin into a replica of America through US-sponsored "reforms,"
first and foremost economic "shock therapy." The crusade was (and remains)
an official project, but it also captivated investors, academics and
journalists, who in their respective professional (or unprofessional) ways
became its missionaries.
Reporters, editorialists and columnists played an especially lamentable
role. Accepting the Administration's premise that "Yeltsin represents the
direction toward the kind of Russia we want,"1 they made that nation's
purported "transition to free-market capitalism and democracy," as the
process of conversion was termed, the guiding concept, prism and basic
narrative of their coverage, with little, if any, concern for its impact on
the people or the country's stability. As the missionary chorus of the
American crusade, they helped obscure Russia's unfolding tragedy and
abetted the worst US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. It was, and in
significant ways continues to be, a bleak chapter in the history of
Journalists had long been forewarned. At the birth of Communist Russia,
Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz published an analysis of the US press
coverage of the 1917 Revolution and the ensuing civil war between Reds and
Whites that became a celebrated textbook case study of journalistic
malpractice. Lippmann and Merz found that in terms of professional
standards the reporting was "nothing short of a disaster" and that the "net
effect was almost always misleading." The main reason, they concluded, was
that US correspondents and editors believed fervently in their government's
anti-Red crusade and had thus seen "not what was, but what men wished to
Seven decades later, it happened again. Most journalists writing for
influential US newspapers and newsmagazines believed in the Clinton
Administration's crusade to remake post-Communist Russia. Like a Washington
Post columnist, they quickly "converted to Yeltsin's side." Like Business
Week's Moscow correspondent, they "hoped for the liberal alternative" and
believed in the "job that Yeltsin and his liberal reformers had begun."
Like the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, they were certain Russia
needed the "same basic model" that America had. And with that newspaper's
correspondent, they worried constantly that Russia might opt instead for a
"path of its own confused devising." Some were even more embattled. For a
longtime Washington Post correspondent still in Moscow today, the
post-Communist crusade was another chapter in a "Cold WarŠnot yet really
Leaving aside a plethora of factual errors, the first casualty, as Lippmann
and Merz had warned, was professional objectivity. Moscow correspondents,
according to a 1996 survey, tended to look at events there "through the
prism of their own expectations and beliefs." Three years later, a reviewer
of a book by a former correspondent concluded that the author's
"spectacularly wrong projections" arose out of her personal hopes for
Russia, "which prompted her to accept appearances for reality and desire
Such hopes and fears produced a US media narrative of post-Communist Russia
that was manichean and based largely on accounts propounded by US
officials. On the side of good were President Yeltsin and his succession of
crusading "young reformers," sometimes called "democratic giants"-notably,
Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Kiriyenko. On the
side of darkness was the unfailingly antireform horde of Communist,
nationalist and other political dragons ensconced in its malevolent
parliamentary cave. Chapter by chapter, the story was reported over and
again for nearly a decade, always from the perspective of the "reformers"
and their Western supporters. It was, a leading Russian journalist thought,
Yeltsin and his team were, it seemed, the only worthy political figures in
all the vastness of Russia. Most Russians saw his economic shock therapy,
which had cost tens of millions of ordinary citizens their life savings and
plunged them into poverty, and related political measures as extremist, but
for the US press Yeltsin was the sole bulwark against "extremists of both
left and right."6 There was little if any room for non-Yeltsin reformers.
When one, Grigory Yavlinsky, ran against Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential
campaign, he was pilloried in US dispatches and editorials: "History will
remember who was the spoiler if things go bad for democracy." On the other
hand, whomever Yeltsin appointed, however unsavory his political biography,
invariably turned out to have "clean hands" and to be "one of the
democrats" and a "reformer," including Yeltsin's eventual designated
successor, Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer.7
More generally, affirming that all Yeltsin backers were invariably
"reformers" resulted in odd reasoning on the part of US journalists. Thus,
Moscow's mayor could be "a democrat" while being "an autocratic ruler." A
Washington Post correspondent even included rapacious insider-oligarchs
because "they bankrolled Yeltsin's presidential campaign against his
Communist rivalŠand they generally favor the country's rocky transition to
a free-market democracy, which has made them fabulously wealthy." His
Newsweek counterpart knew who could not be a "reformer"-anyone "generally
antipathetic to US interests in Russia."8
Sustaining such a manichean narrative in the face of so many conflicting
realities turned American journalists into boosters for US policy and
cheerleaders for Yeltsin's Kremlin. As early as 1993, even a pro-American
Russian thought the US coverage of his country was "media propaganda." An
independent New York press critic made a similar point in 1996, complaining
that newspaper reporting was a "mirror of State Department double-think."
For a senior US scholar, the media's pro-Yeltsinism even "recalls the
pro-Communist fellow-travelling of the 1930s," though the "ideological
positions are reversed."9
American journalists created, for example, cults of those Russian
politicians whom the US government had chosen to embody its policy. The
extraordinary Yeltsin cult of the early 1990s-"as Yeltsin goes, so goes the
nation," in Time's formulation-was eventually eroded by his policy failures
and personal behavior. But as late as 1999 he remained, according to the
New York Times, the "key defender of Russia's hard-won democratic reforms"
and "an enormous asset for the U.S."10
As for Yeltsin's "young reformers," no matter how failed their policies or
dubious their conduct, their reputations hardly suffered at all, at least
not for long. Consider Chubais, whom US officials regarded as a "demigod"
and head of an "economic dream team."11 Even after he was widely suspected
of having ordered a cover-up of a Kremlin financial crime by his aides (an
allegation later confirmed), a New York Times correspondent informed
readers that "Chubais is plotting how to carry out the next stage of
Russia's democratic revolution." And long after he was known to have
personally profited from the privatization programs he administered, in
part by rigging market transactions, he remained, according to another
Times correspondent, a "free-market crusader," indeed the "Eliot Ness of
free-market reform."12 Nor was the Times alone in such reporting. A 1999
study by two American journalists published in The Nation concluded that
the Wall Street Journal's Moscow bureau had been "little more than a PR
conduit for a corrupt regime."13
There were even worse malpractices at the expense of professed American
values. In 1993 US columnists and editorialists followed the Clinton
Administration almost in unison in loudly encouraging Yeltsin's
unconstitutional shutdown of Russia's Parliament and then in cheering his
armed assault on that popularly elected body. The reasons given were
uninformed and ethically specious. Insisting that "it would be not just
expedient but right to support undemocratic measures," journalists even
rehabilitated the ends-justify-the-means apologia long associated with and
thoroughly discredited by Soviet Communists themselves: "One can't make an
omelette without breaking eggs."14 Even the next Parliament, the Duma,
elected under Yeltsin's own superpresidential constitution, became a target
of US media abuse, as though Russia would be more democratic without a
legislature, ruled only by the president and his appointees.15
Another example highlights the irrelevance, even cold indifference, of much
US reporting on post-Communist Russia, where (even according to a
semiofficial Moscow newspaper) most people were "being exploited" and
impoverished in unprecedented ways. Discussing the brutal impact of
economic shock therapy on ordinary citizens, another pro-Western Russian
complained that US correspondents had "no desire to look Russia's tragic
reality straight in the eye." A Reuters journalist later made the same
observation: "The pain is edited out."16
Poverty and health crises were, of course, reported, but usually as
sidebars to the main story of Russia's "transition" and as legacies of the
Communist past. Virtually all US correspondents and editorial writers were
contemptuous of any Russian proposals for a gradual, "somehow less painful
reform," whether by Yeltsin's own vice president in 1993 or Prime Minister
Yevgeny Primakov in 1998 and 1999. Indeed, they seemed to think, following
US officials and economists whose policies had already failed disastrously,
that more shock therapy was needed, such as eliminating the housing and
utilities subsidies that sustained millions of impoverished families,
perhaps half the nation or more.17
Like old-time Soviet journalists, their latter-day US counterparts pardoned
present deprivations in the name of a bright future that did not come.
There was, for example, this astonishing but not unrepresentative assurance
published by an especially influential US journalist in 1997: "While it is
undoubtedly true that daily life in Russia today suffers from a painful
economic, political, and social transition, the Russian prospect over the
coming years and decades is more promising than ever before in its
history."18 The following year Moscow's fraudulent financial system
collapsed and the "prospect" for tens of millions of Russians became even
As Russia sank ever deeper into economic depression and poverty, US
journalists continued to parrot Kremlin and Washington assertions that
economic stability and takeoff, which still have not really come, were just
around the corner. (Vice President Al Gore is quoted as having said in
March 1998, "Optimism prevails universally among those who are familiar
with what is going on in Russia.") On the eve of its 1998 financial
meltdown (and even after), they still found ways to assure readers that
Russia was "a remarkable success story."19 Not even Putin's subsequent
admission that "poverty exists on an unusually large scale in the country"
would make it a focus of US reporting.
Many American correspondents clearly did not like "doom-and-gloom" stories
about unpaid wages and pensions, malnutrition and abandoned provinces,
where, a Russian journalist tells us, "desperation touches everyone."
(Newsweek's correspondent advised the poor to continue living on bread:
"They could do worse.")20 Nor did they report more than a very few of the
desperate acts of protest taking place around the country, and virtually
none of the ways the "reform" government deprived workers of whatever
rights and protection they once had in the Soviet system. American
journalists preferred other "metaphors for Russia's
metamorphosis"21-usually in the tiny segment of Moscow society that had
prospered, from financial oligarchs to yuppies spawned by the temporary
proliferation of Western enterprises.
Thus, for a Washington Post columnist who had recently been a
correspondent, an especially successful insider beneficiary of state assets
was a progressive "baby billionaire" and, for the Wall Street Journal, a
"Russian Bill Gates."22 For others, including a New York Times editorial
writer and also former Moscow correspondent, "one of the best seats for
observing the new Russia is on the terrace outside the cavernous McDonald's
[that] serves as a mecca for affluent young Muscovites. They arrive in Jeep
Cherokees and Toyota Land Cruisers, cell phones in hand."23 In the new
Russia at that time, the average monthly wage, when actually paid, was
about $60, and falling.
No wonder few readers of the US press were prepared for Russia's economic
collapse and financial scandals of the late nineties. Those who relied on
the New York Times, for example, must have been startled to learn-from an
investigative reporter, not a Russia-watcher-that contrary to its prior
reporting and editorials, "The whole political struggle in Russia between
1992 and 1998 was between different groups trying to take control of state
assets. It was not about democracy or market reform."24
Facts may be stubborn things, but in this case no more so than many US
journalists. In 1999 the Yeltsin era and Russia's purported "transition" to
prosperity, stability and democracy ended not only in economic collapse and
human misery but also in the first civil war in a nuclear country and with
a career KGB officer in the Kremlin. A few US journalists spoke of "lost
illusions"-though almost never their own25-but most merely updated the
media's fictitious narrative of the nineties. Thus, on the occasion of
Putin's election this past March, top editors of both the New York Times
and Washington Post wrote apologias for the entire Yeltsin period and by
implication their papers' coverage of the Russian nineties.26
Certainly there has been no media (or official) reconsideration of the
arrogant, intrusive and dangerously counterproductive US crusade to
transform a different civilization. In late 1999 the Post's chief Moscow
correspondent extolled the "great Russian transition," marveling that
"Russians have accomplished much of what we asked." An editor of the New
York Times Book Review, presumably in a position to know, reassured readers
of "the desirability of remaking the former Soviet Union in a Western
image." And like those of other influential papers, the Post's editors
remain unrepentantly missionary: "Yes, meddle in Russian affairs."27
Nor has there been any real acknowledgment of the crusade's calamitous
impact on the Russian people, whose fate the US government and media so
lamented when they were the Soviet people. The "Great Transition
Depression," as a UN study properly calls it, is almost never mentioned and
the nation's massive poverty only euphemistically, as in "Russians who have
benefited little."28 By the late nineties, according to a Moscow writer
admired in America, the "pitiful ruins of the Russian economy stuck out on
the bared sandbars as if after a shipwreck." But to a visiting high-level
Washington Post expert, "Russia looks terrific." Similarly, for Business
Week's ranking specialist, the insider privatization that most Russians
equate with plundering and impoverishment remains "one of the most
successful reforms of the Yeltsin era."29
Even the economic happy talk of the pre-1998 meltdown is back. US press
accounts, parroting as they did in the nineties self-serving assurances by
Western bankers and investment firms, are again reporting that Russia's
half-dead economy is actually "booming."30 But Russian authorities from
economists to President Putin have warned that the modest spurt of
industrial output since 1999 is the result of artificial and temporary
factors and has done little if anything to benefit capital investment or
ordinary citizens. (Capital flight may even have increased during this
Coverage of Putin himself, the little-known head of the KGB's successor
agency only a year ago, has been more mixed. He became president thanks to
a nearly genocidal war in Chechnya and an electoral process manipulated by
Kremlin insiders hoping for a post-Yeltsin praetorian to protect their
power and ill-gotten wealth. Predictably, the Clinton Administration
immediately anointed him "one of the leading reformers" and his political
rise a "genuine democratic transition." Until it finally acknowledged last
month that the new Russian leader is "the un-Boris," the Administration
tried to make Putin its Yeltsin of the twenty-first century in order to
justify its failed policies of the nineties.
Some US journalists did the same. According to the lead New York Times
correspondent, to take perhaps the most influential example, Putin occupied
the Kremlin through "a democratic transfer of executive power" and "clearly
has an intellectual grasp of democracy," even a "seemingly emotional
commitment to building a democracy."31 (A six-month investigation by the
Moscow Times, an expatriate paper, has just concluded that "falsification"
was "decisive" in Putin's March electoral victory.)
When the American press turned sharply against Putin in August over his
perceived handling of the Kursk tragedy, the extraordinarily voluminous
coverage was no less ideological and sermonizing. It seemed as though the
US government had never lost a nuclear submarine and its crew, put "great
power" interests above those of victims and their families, concealed
strategic information in the name of national security and now has more
right to prowl the Barents Sea than does Russia. Indeed, much of the
coverage suggested that our former superpower rival should immediately
disarm unilaterally. Nor, of course, did the commentary point out how much
Yeltsin's US-sponsored "reforms" had done to erode Russia's maintenance and
control of its nuclear weapons.
But most of the press still has nothing but enthusiasm for the "excellent"
economic program being attributed to Putin-a new dose of severe, admittedly
"painful" shock therapy that could only further victimize the poor and
profit the rich. In addition to a regressive 13 percent flat tax, it would
slash remaining social guarantees, including the housing and utilities
subsidies that barely sustain most Russians, raise basic consumer prices
and endanger already meager pensions. It is, a US correspondent joyfully
points out, "considerably bolder than almost any plans that most Western
nations have ever tried to push past suspicious voters."32
The mainstream US press may be indifferent to the fate of Russia's
impoverished majority but not to that of its handful of "much maligned"
oligarchs who were allowed under Yeltsin to "privatize" hundreds of
billions of dollars of Soviet state assets for a fraction of their value.
The country's economic recovery requires some degree of renationalization,
as even the former chief economist of the World Bank argues. But when Putin
began to crack down on oligarchical asset-stripping, tax evasion and
illegal capital export this summer-steps approved by 75 percent of Russians
surveyed-the Washington Post sternly warned him against "revisiting the
privatization deals" and the Wall Street Journal, against even
"antagonizing" the tycoons.33
All this suggests that many American journalists, like Western investors,
the US government and the kleptocrats themselves, would hardly object if
Putin becomes a Russian Pinochet in order to safeguard Yeltsin's "reforms"
and impose his own "excellent program." Thus, a Los Angeles Times
correspondent reports, apparently in full agreement, the growing Western
view that "a little authoritarianism might be just what Russia needs."34 If
influential US journalists and the institutions they represent now share
this opinion, we are left with nearly a decade of not only empirical but
also ethical malpractice.
The following abbreviations are used: Business Week (BW); Johnson Russia
List, e-mail (JRL); Los Angeles Times (LAT); The New Republic (NR); New
York Times (NYT); Washington Post (WP); and Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Considerably more evidence and examples appear in my Failed Crusade:
America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (New York, 2000).
1. Quoted by Daniel Williams in WP, March 13, 1993.
2. "A Test of the News," supplement to NR, Aug. 4, 1920.
3. Jim Hoagland in WP, Nov. 6, 1992; Rose Brady, Kapitalizm (New Haven,
1999), pp. 242-43; Thomas Friedman in NYT, Oct. 24, 1999; Steven Erlanger,
ibid., July 28, 1993; David Hoffman in WP, Sept. 19, 1999.
4. Ellen Shearer and Frank Starr, "Through a Prism Darkly," American
Journalism Review, Sept. 1996, p. 37; Anthony Olcott in WP Book World, June
27, 1999, p. 6. For a general indictment of press coverage, see Matt Bivens
and Jonas Bernstein, "The Russia You Never Met," Demokratizatsiya, Fall
1998, pp. 613-47; and Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi, The eXile (New York,
2000). For references to factual errors, see my Failed Crusade, p. 252, n.
17 and p. 264, n. 92.
5. Leonid Krutakov interviewed by Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames in JRL, Oct.
23, 1999. For "giants," see Lee Hockstader in WP, Jan. 1, 1995. For
examples of sourcing, see Steven Erlanger in NYT, April 9, Dec. 4, 1993;
Fred Hiatt in WP, March 26, 1995, Dec. 10, 1996; and David Hoffman, ibid.,
Dec. 13, 1997. On the other hand, Russia's many opposition politicians and
economists were rarely quoted or interviewed, except to be dismissed. Still
worse, there is little evidence in the coverage that US correspondents in
Moscow read the Russian press.
6. NYT editorial, Dec. 14, 1993. Similarly, see David Hoffman in WP, Oct.
7. For Yavlinsky, see Michael Specter quoting Michael McFaul approvingly in
NYT, May 5, 1996; and similarly the NYT editorial on May 1, 1996, and
Specter's dispatch on May 18, 1996. For "clean hands," see Michael Wines on
Sergei Stepashin, ibid., May 13, 1999; and, similarly, Michael Gordon's
promotion of the inexperienced and inept Sergei Kiriyenko, ibid., April 12,
8. Alessandra Stanley in NYT, June 10, 1997; David Hoffman in WP, Jan. 10,
1997; and Carroll Bogert in Newsweek, March 21, 1994, p. 51.
9. Vladimir Kvint in NYT, Jan. 24, 1993; James Ledbetter in Village Voice,
May 28, 1996; Robert V. Daniels, Russia's Transformation (Lanham, Md.,
1998), p. 193.
10. John Kohan in Time, Dec. 7, 1992; Celestine Bohlen and Thomas Friedman
in NYT, April 15, 16, 1999, and similarly the editorial, June 6, 1999.
11. Bivens and Bernstein, p. 620.
12. Michael Gordon and Alessandra Stanley in NYT, Oct. 17, 1996, Nov. 17,
1997. Similarly, see David Hoffman in WP, Sept. 9, 1997; Paul Quinn-Judge
in Time, Dec. 15, 1997; and Carol Williams in LAT, March 25, 1998.
13. Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames, "The Journal's Russia Scandal," The Nation,
Oct. 4, 1999, p. 20.
14. Charles Krauthammer and Jim Hoagland in WP, March 19, 1993. For
omelettes, see also David Remnick on Charlie Rose, PBS, Oct. 4, 1993. For
voices in unison, see A.M. Rosenthal, the editorial and Leslie Gelb in NYT,
March 16, 22, 28, April 29, 1993; George Will in WP, March 25, 1993; and
editorials in Chicago Tribune, May 9, 1993, and NR, April 12, 1993.
15. See, e.g., Alessandra Stanley in NYT, Jan. 19, 1997; Chicago Tribune
editorial, May 9, 1998; and Jim Hoagland in WP, Dec. 16, 1999.
16. Oleg Bogomolov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Feb. 8, 1994; and John Morrison
cited in Shearer and Starr, p. 39. For exploitation, see Iraida Semenova
and Aleksei Podymov in Rossisskaia Gazeta, Jan. 24, 2000.
17. See Steven Erlanger in NYT, April 24, 1993; for more shock therapy, see
WP, editorial, March 12, 1997; Michael Gordon in NYT, July 13, 1997; and
below, note 32.
18. David Remnick, Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia (New York,
1997), p. 362.
19. See, e.g., Steven Erlanger, the editorials and Richard Stevenson in
NYT, Aug. 22, 1994, July 16, Sept. 25, 1995, May 24, 1996; Fred Hiatt,
Margaret Shapiro, Michael Dobbs and the editorial in WP, April 2, July 30,
1995, March 19, 1997; Carol Williams in LAT, Dec. 2, 1997; Steve Liesman in
WSJ, Jan. 28, 1998; and Hiatt in WP, July 12, 1998. For Gore, see Mark
Egan, Reuters dispatch, JRL, Oct. 8, 1999.
20. Carroll Bogert in Newsweek, May 31, 1993, p. 12. For more impatience
with "doom and gloom," see Steve Liesman in WSJ, Sept. 26, 1996. For the
provinces, Leonid Krutakov cited above, note 5.
21. Ann Hulbert in NR, Oct. 2, 1995.
22. Fred Hiatt in WP, March 9, 1998; WSJ quoted in Bivens and Bernstein,
p. 631. Similarly, see Richard Stevenson's enthusiasm for the
Russian-American investor Boris Jordan in NYT, Sept. 20, 1995, in light of
the exposé of Jordan's activities by David Filipov and Matt Taibbi in the
Boston Globe, Oct. 22, 1997.
23. Philip Taubman in NYT, June 21, 1998. Similarly, see Steven Erlanger
and Michael Specter, ibid., July 23, Oct. 12, 1995; Carol Williams in LAT,
Dec. 24, 1997; David Hoffman in WP, Sept. 16, 1999.
24. Timothy O'Brien quoting Nodari Simonia in NYT, Sept. 5, 1999.
25. Michael Dobbs and Paul Blustein in WP, Sept. 12, 1999. Similarly, see
Fred Hiatt, ibid., Aug. 29, 1999; John Lloyd in NYT Magazine, Aug. 15,
1999, pp. 34-41, 52, 61, 64.
26. Bill Keller in NYT Book Review, March 19, 2000, pp. 1, 6; Fred Hiatt in
WP, March 23, 2000. Similarly, see David Hoffman's defense of Vice
President Gore's role in the crusade, ibid., June 4, 2000.
27. David Hoffman, ibid., Sept. 19, 1999; Barry Gewen in NYT Book Review,
Oct. 31, 1999, p. 34; WP editorial, June 1, 2000.
28. Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS
1999 (New York, 1999), p. 15; Paul Quinn-Judge in Time, July 3, 2000, p. 41.
29. Tatyana Tolstaya in The New York Review of Books, Nov. 19, 1998, p. 6;
Robert Kaiser, Charlie Rose, PBS, Sept. 10, 1999; Rose Brady in BW, March
13, 2000, p. 14E12.
30. Michael Sesit in WSJ Europe, July 7-8, 2000. Similarly, see Reuters
dispatch, JRL, Feb. 19, 1999; Michael Wines in NYT, June 2, 2000; and James
Cox in USA Today, July 21, 2000.
31. Michael Wines in NYT, May 8, Feb. 20, July 9, 2000. For other pro-Putin
pieces, see John Lloyd in NYT Magazine, March 19, 2000, pp. 62, 64-67; and
David Hoffman's minimizing of Putin's role in the Chechen war, in WP, March
32. Michael Wines in NYT, June 29, 2000. For similar enthusiasm, see David
Hoffman in WP, July 7, 2000; Paul Hofheinz (who calls it an "excellent
program") in WSJ Europe, July 5, 2000; and the NYT editorial on the flat
tax, May 28, 2000.
33. WP editorial, July 22, 2000; Paul Hofheinz in WSJ Europe, July 5, 2000.
Similarly, see David Ignatius in WP, July 23, 2000. For whitewashing the
"much maligned" Boris Berezovsky, widely considered the most rapacious
oligarch, see Michael Wines in NYT, July 15, 2000; and the way Berezovsky
is presented, or allowed to present himself, by David Hoffman in WP, July
18 and 20, 2000; and Paul Quinn-Judge in Time Europe, July 17, 2000. For
the survey, see Vedomosti, Aug. 3, 2000.
34. Maura Reynolds in LAT, March 24, 2000. Similarly, see Michael Wines in
NYT, Feb. 20, 2000; and David Hoffman in WP, March 25, 2000.