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Johnson's Russia List
18 September 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Christian Science Monitor: Scott Peterson and Fred Weir,
Russians shrug off stolen votes. After a series of crises,
new evidence of fraud in the March presidential vote sparks
concern, little ire. (DJ: As far as I know the New York Times
and the Washington Post have completely ignored the Moscow
Times vote fraud story.)
2. The Russia Journal: Ekaterina Larina, A patriotic mission
for Russian athletes. Russiaís Olympic team sets out for Sydney,
not just for medals, but to reclaim some national pride.
3. Itar-Tass: IMF WANTS RUSSIA TO USE FAVOURABLE SITUATION TO
4. Financial Times (UK): John Thornhill and Andrew Jack,
Assets battle hits Gazprom offer for Media Most.
5. Albert Weeks: Moscow and Iraqi oil.
6. stratfor.com: U.S. Edges Into Central Asia?
7. The Russia Journal: Andrei Piontkovsky, King meets the
president. Like a professional spy, Putin displayed sly coolness
8. The Independent on Sunday (UK): NO MAN'S LAND: IN THE BLASTED
RUINS OF GROZNY, LIFE IS STIRRING. THE PAINFUL PROCESS OF REBUILDING
THE CHECHEN CAPITAL HAS BEGUN. BUT THE PEOPLE LABOURING IN THE
RUBBLE ARE ALL WOMEN. WHERE ARE ALL THE MEN? STEVE CRAWSHAW DISCOVERS
THE DEPRESSING TRUTH.
9. BBC MONITORING: PENNILESS SOLDIERS IN CHECHNYA FIGHT FOR THEIR
10. Moscow Times: Alexander Kostiaev, Superior Education.]
Christian Science Monitor
September 18, 2000
Russians shrug off stolen votes
After a series of crises, new evidence of fraud in the March presidential
vote sparks concern, little ire.
By Scott Peterson and Fred Weir
Suppose a crusading US newspaper were to dig up evidence that an American
presidential election had been stolen by means of ballot-stuffing,
misreported returns, armies of fake voters, and systematic intimidation. And
suppose most major US papers refused to follow up on the story.
Sound farfetched? Not in today's Russia, where the near-silence from the mass
media to just such an exposť reflects the exhaustion, if not outright
failure, of the post-Soviet democracy-building project. Nearly a decade after
the collapse of Communism, impoverished and disaster-plagued Russians appear
to no longer care if their new electoral system is working honestly or
President Clinton hailed the results of the March 26 presidential election -
in which Vladimir Putin seized a first-round victory with 52.94 percent of
the vote - as a big step for Russian democracy. An array of international
observers, too, gave their seal of approval.
But last week, the Moscow Times, an English-language daily owned jointly by a
Dutch company and several big Russian corporations, published an eight-page
study detailing extensive fraud. For the investigative piece, a team of
reporters traveled around Russia for six months, pulling together disparate
strains of evidence. "Given how close the vote was," the Times concluded,
"fraud and abuse of state power appear to have been decisive."
Few deny the likelihood of cheating, or that Putin would have won in a
second-round runoff, if one were held. But in a nation reeling from a recent
spate of crises, the often-feisty Russian-language press has given the story
"I have no doubt there was fraud," says Vladimir Andreyenkov, director of the
independent Center for Comparative Social Research in Moscow. "We're all well
acquainted with the scale and methods of pressure employed by the president's
team during the elections, both direct and indirect. What happened in the
election went well beyond all moral boundaries."
But, he adds with a very Russian shrug, so what? "In Russia, fraud is seen as
a natural part of the process. Maybe democracy is the privilege of a rich
country. When three-quarters of the population are as poor as beggars, what
democracy can you talk about?"
That may be news to voters in India - the world's largest and possibly
poorest democracy - but analysts say that overcoming the old Soviet system's
vertical power structure has made democratic thinking rare indeed.
Despite its detail, the Times report said it was unable to make any direct
link between the allegations of fraud and Putin himself. Among the
newspaper's findings, however, were large discrepancies between votes
recorded at polling stations in some regions, and the results reported to
Moscow by local authorities. A comparison of the returns from 16 percent of
the polling stations in Dagestan, one of Russia's 89 regions, for example,
appears to document the theft of 88,000 votes in Putin's favor.
Projecting the same trend to the whole region - the Moscow Times was barred
from checking the returns in many places - yielded the paper an estimated
conservative total of 551,000 stolen votes, nearly one-quarter of Putin's
nationwide margin of victory.
Significant, though less pronounced, levels of fraud reportedly were
uncovered in at least nine other Russian regions. Tactics included a
votes-for-vodka scam, and widespread pressure to vote Putin from local bosses
trying to prove their "loyalty." Times reporters said they found partially
burned ballots - with the checked name of Putin's main opponent, Communist
Gennady Zyuganov, still clearly visible - and heard anecdotal evidence of
ballot-box stuffing, vote rigging, and other improprieties.
"This is really a scandal of momentous [proportions], and it is good field
work. It looked like they really dug up something," says Marshall Goldman, a
director at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian Studies in
Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Goldman served as an election monitor for the March
vote. "We asked, 'What will happen once the vote is tabulated? How do you
know what is transmitted to Moscow?' " he says. "They told us, 'We have our
tally sheets [to] doublecheck....' But if there are no observers and no press
present, this [fraud] is going to happen."
Despite a somewhat rosy early assessment, the final report of the Office of
Security and Cooperation in Europe - which sent 400 observers - notes that
fraud was serious. In its 2000 index rating official corruption, Transparency
International, a Berlin-based advocacy group, ranked Russia eighth-worst out
of 90 countries.
Another apparent problem points to higher-level involvement. Between
parliamentary elections in December and the presidential polls in March, the
number of registered Russian voters jumped by 1.3 million - or nearly 2
percent. Every Russian citizen automatically becomes a voter at 18, but
Western and Russian demographic experts quoted by the Times say that such a
surge was virtually impossible in a country whose population has been in
decline for the past decade.
The Russian media have hardly been eager to pursue the story. The only
reaction so far has been a 300-word piece in the central daily Izvestia,
which accused the "American press" of meddling in Russia's internal affairs.
"Russian society has adapted to blanket lies, and is not stirred much when
they are exposed. People are exhausted, occupied with their own personal
survival, and don't want to ask questions," says Yuri Solomonov, deputy
editor of Novaya Gazeta, a crusading weekly. "Consider the reaction to the
ongoing war in Chechnya. People receive the daily death toll in much the same
impassive way they hear the weather report."
"We all know there was fraud in all our elections, and this is the way things
work in Russia," says Sergei Mikhailov, an analyst with the independent
Center for Social Studies in Moscow. "People accept that power will have its
way. Perhaps that's the famous Russian fatalism in action, but that's how it
The Russia Journal
September 16-22, 2000
A patriotic mission for Russian athletes
By EKATERINA LARINA
Russiaís Olympic team sets out for Sydney, not just for medals, but to
reclaim some national pride.
Just like in Soviet times, Russiaís Olympic team has been burdened with a
mission of state importance ≠ to give the Russian people an injection of
national pride. Olympic victories would be the perfect rallying call for
the Kremlin in its search to consolidate the people around a national idea.
A foretaste of what big wins could mean for the man on the street came last
week, when the nation reveled in 20-year-old Marat Safinís win over tennis
legend Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open menís singles title after a month of
disasters and bad news.
"The way heís playing, heís the future of the game," Sampras said after his
6-4, 6-3, 6-3 thrashing. President Vladimir Putin reportedly sent Safin a
letter stating, "We are proud that todayís victor is a Russian."
Itís up to sports psychologists to say whether or not an athlete will play
at maximum potential when so great a portion of the stateís national pride
rests on his shoulders. Nonetheless, Putin sent the Russian team on its
way, instructing them to "inspire confidence and success in the hearts of
"Weíre not just preparing for a successful performance from our athletes.
The issue is also about Russiaís international prestige," Putin said at a
meeting of the Olympic committee before the Russian teamís departure for
Australia. "We need the joy of a common victory. Sometimes, sporting
victories can mean more than a hundred political slogans."
Vladimir Rimsky, the head of the Indem sociological foundation, said that
the use of sport as an element of ideology is completely natural and one
thatís familiar to Russians, most of whom grew up in a Soviet Union where
everything possible was incorporated into ideology.
"For ideology, sport is a way of appropriating the ideas of struggle and
opposition," Rimsky said. "This was how it was in the Soviet era, when
sport was an ideological element in the struggle against Ďdamned
imperialism.í Our sporting successes were supposed to be proof of the
superiority of our system."
But Rimsky added that in putting such high stakes on sport, the Kremlin
spin doctors were taking a risk. This is because with last-minute
propaganda efforts it wonít be easy to have a consolidated impact on mass
consciousness. This seems all the more true since even the most optimistic
predictions donít promise any particular success.
"The authorities are trying to use the Olympics because they, or the spin
doctors at least, are hungry for anything that could have a positive
effect," Rimsky said. "But this is a calculation based on emotions, and
they forget that today one emotion might dominate, but tomorrow, it could
be completely different. The first real defeat or loss by our sportsmen
could ruin the whole idea."
"The fact is that weíre going to the Olympics without being sure that we
can win," Rimsky said. "Everyone knows, our own people included, that in
difficult economic conditions, itís hard to have good sport. We shouldnít
assume the people are so stupid that they donít see this."
But perhaps both the spin doctors and sports officials do understand this.
Recent rumors that Russian athletes will fall victim to prejudiced judges
and referees are being interpreted by independent analysts as a sort of
insurance policy in case of defeat.
"Maybe in some sports, prejudiced judges can have an impact, but not on a
mass scale," Rimsky said. "Our PR people have already begun justifying
things and are taking a defensive approach, but this isnít a winning
tactic. And in the end, if youíre stronger and get another five punches in,
no prejudiced referee will get in your way."
Rimsky said that even in todayís situation, the Olympics could have been
used as an ideological resource if their potential had been remembered
earlier and a campaign to support Russiaís team begun sooner. He said that
a feeling of responsibility toward the Russian people and support from them
could be a real incentive for the Olympic team, but the public should have
been made aware of this earlier.
"I used to play sport myself, and I know that itís a great help when you
feel the responsibility and you know youíve got people solidly behind you,"
Rimsky said, recalling his days cross-country skiing. "I always performed
better in a team, in the relay, when I knew I had to score points for the
Meanwhile, Russiaís athletes have been offered extra motivation in the form
of $50,000 for a gold medal, $30,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze.
Anatoly Ilyin, 69, who scored the U.S.S.R. soccer teamís winning goal at
the 1956 Olympics, said he welcomed the move.
"We were oriented to taking part and winning and were not interested in
financial matters," he said. "This task is always the same in sport, but
reinforcing it with money can be seen as a sign of the stateís attention
Whether the team will be able to give Russians cause to forget their daily
problems for a while is not certain. At least, the pressure isnít quite the
same as in Soviet days when even a second place result was considered a
defeat. In todayís Russia, any success by the Russian athletes will be
considered a victory, observers say. And no one will draw attention to
defeats, so as not to upset the people, who have enough problems as it is.
IMF WANTS RUSSIA TO USE FAVOURABLE SITUATION TO BOOST REFORMS
Washington, 17th September: The International Monetary Fund believes that
Russia should take advantage of the current favourable economic situation
to boost its structural reforms.
That was the main recommendation which members of the IMF board of
directors gave in Moscow on the results of discussions on the economic
situation in Russia, Russia's executive director in the IMF, Aleksey
Mozhin, told ITAR-TASS.
Discussions were held on Friday [15th September] within the framework of
the traditional annual consultations. It was not expected to discuss the
renewal of credits to Moscow. According to Mozhin, many board members
raised doubts about Russia's need for additional credits from the IMF.
They believe it would be enough for Russia to adopt a programme that makes
it possible to carry out necessary reforms, but envisaged fresh credits
only if some unforeseen difficulties arose.
Moscow, for its part, has repeatedly said recently that it would like to
get money from the IMF to service and pay off its debt to that
organization. The amount of 1.75bn dollars was mentioned for 2001.
The new programme of Russia-IMF cooperation is expected to be discussed
during a visit to Moscow by an IMF mission, due in the second half of
Financial Times (UK)
18 September 2000
Assets battle hits Gazprom offer for Media Most
By John Thornhill in London and Andrew Jack in Moscow
Gazprom, Russia's biggest gas group, has offered to buy Vladimir Gusinsky's
Russian media interests, the country's biggest commercial media business, for
But the acquisition of the financially troubled Media Most group has stalled
over wrangling about which assets should be included.
However, Gazprom has already approached an international investment bank to
seek foreign buyers for Media Most on the assumption that it will eventually
win full control.
"Our idea, which is supported by [Rem] Vyakhirev (Gazprom's chief executive)
and other shareholders, is that we would take this business and with the help
of powerful financial consultants sell it on to an international investor,"
said one person close to the deal.
Mr Gusinsky, one of Russia's most flamboyant "oligarchs" who built Media Most
into the country's most influential television and newspaper group, is still
desperate to save his media empire and wants to renegotiate the sale to
Gazprom. The media magnate, who was arrested in June and thrown into prison
for three days on embezzlement charges, claims he is a victim of a Kremlin
crackdown on the free press.
Gazprom, which already owns 16 per cent of Media Most's equity and is one of
the company's biggest creditors, claims its dispute is purely commercial and
that it wants to recoup money to invest in its core gas business. In March,
Media Most defaulted on a $211m loan guaranteed by Gazprom and secured on 20
per cent of the media company's equity. Gazprom has also guaranteed an
additional $262m loan, which becomes repayable next year and is secured
against an additional 20 per cent of Media Most's shares.
It is understood that on July 26, Alfred Kokh, a former minister who now runs
Gazprom's media businesses, signed a confidential agreement with Mr Gusinsky
to buy Media Most's outstanding equity for $300m and assume all its debts.
On the same day Mikhail Lesin, the press minister, signed a protocol dropping
all criminal charges against Mr Gusinsky, allowing the media magnate to leave
the country soon afterwards.
But Gazprom believes that Mr Gusinsky has now transferred shareholdings in
Media Most's daughter companies to a Gibraltar-based company in an attempt to
scupper the proposed sale. The company is considering whether to take legal
action to seize Media Most's assets.
Media Most could not be reached for comment last night.
However, Mr Gusinsky's group has previously denied suggestions that any deal
with Gazprom had been concluded and dismissed reports to the contrary as
manipulations by Gazprom or the Russian government. Mr Gusinsky has for
months been seeking a foreign strategic investor to help salvage his
In a recent interview, Yevgeny Kisilyov, general director of NTV, Media
Most's television channel, said he did not expect Mr Gusinsky's imminent
return to Russia.
Against the backdrop of concerns that Gazprom's control of NTV would reduce
the degree to which the station has been critical of the government, Mr
Kisilyov's prime-time evening television programme went back on the offensive
yesterday evening. It gave considerable coverage to last week's visit of
Swiss prosecutors to Moscow to meet their Russian counterparts in relation to
allegations of corruption in the presidential administration.
From: "Albert L. Weeks" <AWeeks1@compuserve.com>
Subject: Moscow and Iraqi oil
Date: Sun, 17 Sep 2000
I have a query for any petroleum experts out there.
Why, if Russia prefers higher barrel prices for petroleum
JRL, #4520), does it encourage a forgive-and-forget policy
towards Sadam Hussein and Iraq, against whom U.N.O. sanctions
hold down export of oil from that important oil-producing country?
Iraq potentially is right up there among the top, half-dozen-plus
oil-producing nations. If Iraqi oil began gushing into the world market,
wouldn't that tend to depress rather than increase oil prices? And
wouldn't that prospect militate against Russian national interests
since the Russians get more revenue from their own exported oil
when prices remain high?
And by the way, where are the Caspian oil producers in this picture?
Wouldn't increasing supplies from those sources likewise tend to
depress petroleum prices?
It seems our journalists rarely ask, let alone answer the pertinent
Or have I missed something?
U.S. Edges Into Central Asia?
September 15, 2000
The United States is once again showing interest in Central Asia, but this
time it appears Russia has invited them ≠ a big change from times when
Washington and Moscow vied for influence in the region. Why the switch?
Washington is taking advantage of an easy inroad into the region, while
Moscow is looking for someone to provide funding and equipment to put down
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright seemed to close the door on U.S.
involvement in Central Asia when she visited Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and
Uzbekistan last spring. After lambasting their governments for poor records
on human rights and democratization, Albright handed out a token amount of
aid ≠ about $10 million for all three states combined ≠ and promptly left.
Albrightís snub was probably less about human rights and more about U.S.
hopes for influence in Central Asia. Albright seemed to acknowledge that
Washington wasnít willing to spend the money necessary to buy the loyalty
of a remote region with strong military and economic ties to Moscow.
But hints that the United States is softening its stance on Central Asiaís
human rights record are a sign that Washington once again has a strategic
interest in the region. Albright met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov
last week at the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York. Her tone was milder,
and she pointed out areas where Uzbekistan had improved.
Karimov told Interfax news that Albright promised ďpolitical, moral and, if
need be, material assistanceĒ to help Uzbekistan combat the Islamic
militants that periodically invade the country. Karimov also said Albright
promised to list the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan ≠ the main militant
threat ≠ as a terrorist organization. The U.S. State Department says the
two had a general discussion of counterterrorism issues.
Listing the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as a terrorist organization
makes it easier for the United States to send military aid to Uzbekistan.
Fighting terrorism is more acceptable to policymakers and the public than
helping a less-than-democratic government fight an insurgency.
The United States cites concerns of international terrorism and drug
smuggling, but these are constant problems and donít explain the policy
The best explanation is that Russia has invited the United States back into
the region. Presidents Clinton and Putin talked terrorism at the June
summit, which spawned midlevel talks in August when U.S. Undersecretary of
State Thomas R. Pickering and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister
Vyacheslav Trubnikov met in Washington. The result was a series of public
statements on the need to combat terrorism in Central Asia.
The United States knows it canít match the Russians in a bidding war for
Central Asian loyalty ≠ the costs far outweigh the benefits. But a Russian
invitation may be worth exploiting. Washington is likely hoping to use the
terrorism issue to make itself valuable to the regional states and thus
gain a measure of influence. The United States has an edge in high-tech
devices like the information management systems it has given to the Kazak,
Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbek militaries.
At the same time, the United States has an opportunity to strike a blow
against terrorism and drug smuggling.
Russia benefits by gaining another ally to fight the rise of Central Asian
Islamic fundamentalism. U.S. money and technology will help put down a
threat to Russian security. And Russia is betting that America wonít
displace it in the region. Most Central Asian trade still centers on
Russia. Moscow is the dominant military supplier in the region, and it also
controls the viable oil and gas export routes.
The United States may inadvertently take pressure off Russia by focusing
Islamic fundamentalism toward America. On the other hand, as long as the
United States has a toehold in the region, Russiaís control is incomplete.
The Russia Journal
September 16-22, 2000
SEASON OF DISCONTENT: King meets the president
By Andrei Piontkovsky
Like a professional spy, Putin displayed sly coolness on CNN.
The craft practiced by Larry King has a certain similarity to the spyís art
of recruitment and active measures. You could say then, that his interview
with the Russian president was a meeting of two professionals. But it was
Vladimir Putin, colonel in the KGBís foreign intelligence service, who
displayed a higher level of professionalism.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in whose service Putinís grandfather worked as cook,
bodyguard or something similar, liked to say, "Comrades, we need useful
bourgeois idiots." And so it was that right before our very eyes, the great
and fearsome Larry King was lured to the other side and transformed into
just such a useful bourgeois idiot.
Putin demonstrated the full extent of his operative skills in slipping in
the idea that the Kursk submarine sank because it collided with an American
submarine. He took a subtle approach, feeding his version directly to the
viewersí subconscious with a discreet precision reminiscent of the
notorious 25th frame trick.
At the same time, he was careful not to link himself personally to this
deliberately false version. "Weíve had 19 cases of collisions between our
submarines. Thereís nothing out of the ordinary in this. We have to work
out some common rules of behavior at sea. Iíve already discussed this with
my colleague, President Clinton."
As for the expected question on foreign help, naturally, that presented no
difficulties. Putin went with the same legend that had been already
prepared for his meeting with the families of victims ≠ that offers of help
had come only on Aug. 15, and were immediately accepted. But what would
Larry King, who had enough trouble getting his tongue around the names
"Beerezovsky" and "Guuzinsky," know about some "Kuurebanov," standing next
to Putin in Sochi on Aug. 16, and explaining in his capacity as head of the
Kursk rescue commission that no foreign help was needed.
Choosing his arguments to fit with the Western system of values, Putin
showed similar skill in answering questions on alleged human-rights
violations in Chechnya and alleged attacks on press freedom.
Chechen civilians give the liberating Army an enthusiastic welcome and have
already elected their deputy to the Russian parliament. But Larry Kingís
viewers wonít ever know that Aslanbek Aslakhanov, the elected deputy in
question, returned from a visit to Chechnya shocked by the mass-scale and
routine violations of human rights ≠ arbitrary arrests, murders, torture
Larry Kingís viewers will never know that the commander of the armed forces
in the North Caucasus once said that he considers all "male Chechens over
10 and under 60" as rebels. And another general, a hero of Russia,
corrected his overly humane colleague, adding that the wives and children
of terrorists also must be considered terrorists.
The traditional little story about the cross went down a treat. Russian
viewers, hearing for the umpteenth time (in various versions) this
soul-searing tale of the little cross found in the ashes of Putinís
burnt-down dacha and sanctified on the Lordís Tomb in Jerusalem, would have
taken it all with a dose of irony. But for the disciplined churchgoers that
people America, it was an important sign, creating the image of the "most
human of all people to have walked this earth."
In the entire hour, Stirlitz made only one, hardly noticeable, professional
slip-up in my opinion ≠ he was a little naive and tactless in boasting
about the exceptional personal courage he showed by heroically sailing on a
submarine. And also, the self-satisfied smile on his lips when he said "it
sank," (about the Kursk) looked rather odd.
The interview with Larry King helps shed light on why Western leaders are
so taken with Putin. The export-model Putin is vastly different from the
version for domestic consumption. When abroad, Putin doesnít threaten to
wipe anyone out in the shithouse, and he doesnít go into self-revealing
hysterics, shouting "Television is lying! Television is lying! Television
is lying!" The export Putin doesnít use verbs like "podmandet" (something
like "fuck-up") when talking with women. This kind of behavior is only
acceptable at home, with his own lackeys. Especially as the lackeys love it.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center of Strategic Research.)
The Independent on Sunday (UK)
17 September 2000
NO MAN'S LAND: IN THE BLASTED RUINS OF GROZNY, LIFE IS STIRRING. THE
PAINFUL PROCESSOF REBUILDING THE CHECHEN CAPITAL HAS BEGUN. BUT THE PEOPLE
LABOURING IN THERUBBLE ARE ALL WOMEN. WHERE ARE ALL THE MEN? STEVE CRAWSHAW
DISCOVERS THE DEPRESSING TRUTH
When fire devastates an expanse of forest, life often returns faster than
we expect. Blackened stumps are soon smothered in verdant growth; bursts of
unexpected colour emerge from the scorched soil, as flowers grow from
buried seeds. Life stirs from the ashes.
In some respects, it is possible to persuade oneself that a similar
resurrec- tion is taking place in the flattened city of Grozny, the
Hiroshima of the Caucasus. Roofs are being replaced; walls are being
replastered; houses are being made half-habitable once more. The main
Russian military onslaught on the Chechen capital - which began a year ago
next month as a kind of proxy election campaign for Vladimir Putin - is
over. Even the schools have re-opened, official communiques from Moscow
assure us, with catch- up classes for those who missed out because of the
"unrest" of the past year. Things, the Kremlin would have us believe, are
returning to normal.
But the merest glance at Grozny is enough to dispel this daydream. Bombed
to ruins in Boris Yeltsin's war of 1994-1996 (which in retrospect was
little more than a warm-up), the city has now been blasted so
comprehensively that one can scarcely imagine it ever returning to
normality, let alone doing so today. The infrastructure is so utterly
destroyed that many wonder if it is worth even trying to rebuild. The
civilian administration installed by the Russians is based in Chechnya's
second town, Gudermes, and - despite repeated promises - shows little sign
A second glance, meanwhile, reveals an even more telling detail: wherever
reconstruction is tentatively going on, the rebuilders all have one thing
in common: they are women.
To some extent, this phenomenon was predictable. Similar patterns have been
observed in wars and disaster zones across the world. Faced with the
extremes of suffering that modern warfare so often produces, men often fall
into depression or bury themselves in an alcoholic stupor; women are more
likely to keep going. In the lunar landscape of Berlin after 1945 it was
the Trummerfrauen, the "rubble women", who famously did most of the
clearance work, brick by shattered brick. But the annals of war are full of
Mother Courage characters, who carry on despite everything. For whatever
reason - protecting the family, wanting to create order out of chaos, being
better able to endure hardship, or a mixture of all three - women are
likely to stay active and constructive when their shell-shocked menfolk
have abandoned themselves to apathy or despair.
But in Grozny there is more to it than that. The men are not simply
demoralised: they have vanished - for some good reasons. To be a Chechen
male in Grozny today is dangerous. Theoretically, the Russians' battle is
only with the "Islamic terrorists". In practice, that means any male over
the age of 10. Innocence is no defence. The journalist Ruslan Musayev, for
example, was recently arrested, beaten and held in a covered pit; his crime
was to be an ethnic Chechen. Luckily for him, he is also a correspondent
for the US news agency Associated Press - which might have made his death
politically embarrassing - and his captors, having robbed him, released him
alive. But similar incidents occur daily, with unhappier endings. The death
of an ordinary Chechen (or "terrorist") counts for nothing.
In such circumstances, some men flee Chechnya. Others choose the obvious
alternative, and join the rebels in the hills. Either way, they become
invisible. Superficially, their absence lends credibility to Moscow's
claims of a return to normality. But anyone who is familiar with Chechen
affairs will have learnt to distrust surface appearances.
"There will be no air strikes which would lead to civilian casualties in
Grozny," promised Boris Yeltsin back in 1994. It was all lies. As the
violent truth emerged, even Sergei Kovalyov, Yeltsin's own human rights
envoy, begged Yeltsin to break "this vicious circle of despair and
bloodstained lies". The West, embarrassed by such public murder of
thousands of civilians, pretended not to notice, or talked of Russia's
"internal affair". It is a pattern which has held, with variations, to this
When Putin launched his assault on Grozny - encouraged by bombings in
Moscow which the Russians blamed on Chechen terrorists but which many now
believe may have been the work of the security services - the scale of the
attack made a mockery of the suggestion that this was a battle with
"extremists". A city that had once been home to 400,000 people was razed to
the ground, as punishment for the alleged behaviour of a few terrorists.
Tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in the city's cellars while
the bombardment continued. The Kremlin insisted that only rebels were holed
up there. Andrei Babitsky, a Russian journalist who remained in the city
for much of that time - and whose story was told in the recent Channel 4
film Babitsky's War - exposed those lies for what they were. The Russian
government was enraged by his honesty. He was arrested, and it was probably
only because of an international outcry (he works for the US-funded Radio
Liberty) that he got out alive.
or was that the end to the attacks on ordinary people. Even the Kremlin's
friends believe that - while the rebels may sometimes have matched atrocity
with atrocity - the behaviour of the Russian forces in Chechnya has been
appalling. Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a former general in Russia's interior
ministry forces, complains about Russians "arresting people without proof,
torturing them, beating them and destroying their houses". In such
circumstances, how could anybody in Chechnya stay loyal to the Kremlin?
The way the Kremlin planned it, the war was to be gloriously over by
election day in March. But there is no sign of an ending. The assumption
that every Chechen is an enemy has become - predictably - a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Russian forces may control Grozny and other main towns, but the
country is still at war, and, though the media coverage has subsided to a
trickle, some 20 Russian soldiers die in this conflict every week.
In fact, there was a certain impartiality to the bombing raids in both
Yeltsin's and Putin's wars: the random killings affected civilians of all
races, and this provided a strange kind of ethnic solidarity. "What have
our Russian neighbours done wrong?" a Chechen man asked me once, amid the
ruins of Grozny. "They lived through everything with us." Elsewhere, I met
the grieving neighbours of Anatoly Sokolov, shot dead by his fellow-
Russians while bringing the children of his Chechen neighbours to safety.
"How can they think of an action like this?" asked weeping Muslim
neighbours, as they fashioned a rough Orthodox cross for Sokolov's grave.
But today Grozny's torment has solidified into a more traditional pattern
of madness, in which the relationship between ruler and ruled is poisoned
by smouldering resentments going back centuries. Leo Tolstoy's story "Haji
Murat", set in the Caucasus in the 19th century, describes an episode in
which soldiers burn houses, shoot chickens, and bayonet a child. This is
Tolstoy's description of the reaction: "The feeling which all Chechens
felt, both young and old, was stronger than hatred. It was not hatred but a
refusal to recognise these Russian dogs as people, and a revulsion, disgust
and bewilderment at the senseless cruelty of these beings. . ." The
sentiments could be repeated almost unchanged today. The Russians have
repeatedly been humiliated in Chechnya. But the deep, irreversible damage
they have sustained comes from the occasions when their repression has
succeeded, earning the undying hatred of their victims.
Every Chechen, for example, remembers the date 23 February 1944. On that
day - even as the main Russian army was fighting it out with the Germans in
Europe - Stalin's forces unleashed apocalypse in a huge, swift and
carefully planned operation. Hundreds of thousands of Chechens were packed
into trains and deported to distant Kazakhstan in just a few days;
thousands died on the journey, and many more died on arrival. In a touch
that Adolf Eichmann would have appreciated, an official memo about the
deportations boasted that only 12,000 railway carriages were used instead
of the planned 15,000 because of "compressed cargo"; many deportees were
children, and could therefore be squeezed into a smaller space. Thirteen
years later, four years after Stalin's death, the Chechens were allowed
back to their homeland. But they never forgot.
In some respects, the deportations of 1944, conducted in utmost secrecy,
were Chechnya's ultimate nightmare. This new slaughter is, however,
shocking in a different way. This time, there is no world war, and Russia
is ostensibly a developed, democratic nation no less civilised than Britain
or France. What is more, the rest of the civilised world can see what is
happening in the territory of its fellow member of the international
community - or could if it cared to. Yet in the West there has been
scarcely any public reaction to Putin's blitzkrieg. Like Russia itself, we
can only deal with the barbarity by pretending that it isn't there. No
wonder Grozny's menfolk despair.
Both Chechnya and Russia are the losers. In the words of Pavel Felgenhauer,
a leading Russian commentator on military affairs, "The two-faced Russian
policy - official love on the one hand, and actual destruction on the other
- can only produce a long-lasting savage guerrilla war. In the end, the
Russian military will most likely lose." The Kremlin and the West are still
reluctant to accept this last point, but after what has happened the
chances of a Russian "victory" - of a subdued Chechnya being peacefully
reabsorbed into the Russian fold - seem minimal. An independent Chechnya
makes little sense in economic or political terms. Yet Russia's brutal
policies are driving it inexorably towards that pointless goal.
For now, Chechnya is a country where nothing works - apart from its women's
inextinguishable determination that life must go on. The basic currencies
of truth and faith - on which everyday life depends - have been devalued to
the point of worthlessness. The Russian military routinely conceals the
scale of its continuing losses. Chechen men "disappear" with scarcely the
pretence of a coherent explanation. Even high-profile politicians can
simply vanish into the lethal void of a Russian gaol, unaccounted for.
Thus, Chechen leaders claim that the speaker of the Chechen parliament died
in a Moscow gaol this month after being tortured. The Russians admit that
they arrested Ruslan Alikhadzhiev four months ago, but deny knowledge of
his death; they say, however, that they do not know where he has ended up.
In those circumstances, trying to find a loved one - or to find out if he
is alive or dead - is an almost impossible task. Russian and Chechen wives,
mothers and daughters have every reason to fear the worst. In a sense, the
Chechens' closest potential allies against the Kremlin are the womenfolk of
killed Russian soldiers. It is they (again, not the fathers and brothers)
who have mobilised to protest against the senselessness of the conflict and
against the military's brazen lies.
Meanwhile, women in Grozny do what they can, in advance of a winter that
will test their resilience to the limit. Realistically, they have little
hope of significantly improving their lot. Grozny is a ghost city, 150,000
of whose former inhabitants are still in refugee camps. The war is
unfinished business. Whatever the women rebuild, they are powerless to
resist what Moscow may yet do to them, their homes and their families. Like
children building sandcastles on a beach, they can only wait for the next
big wave that may violently sweep it all away once more.
The 19th-century Russians gave Grozny its name - "terrible", or "fearsome"
- to intimidate the Chechens whom they were trying to tame; the Chechens
have renamed the town Jokhar, to imbue it with heroic qualities in memory
of Jokhar Dudayev, the man who led Chechnya to not-quite independence
before the Russians finally killed him in 1996. Now, however, Grozny is
neither fearsome nor heroic. Just 10 years ago, it was a city of cafes and
restaurants and life. Now, it has become a city of emptiness and desolation
- and Westerners who disapprove should reflect on their own governments'
shameful inaction. In the words of Sergei Kovalyov, the former dissident
who spent time in Grozny when it was most dangerous to do so, the only
response was "senseless diplomatic steps in the Western tradition".
These failures will return to haunt all concerned. Savik Shuster, the
Moscow boss of Andrei Babitsky (the journalist who risked his life to tell
the truth about Chechnya), speaks for many Russian democrats when he
argues: "Whatever belief in democratic liberal values there may have been
in this society at the beginning of the 1990s, this war has destroyed.
Putin's government is setting a time bomb for an entire society."
The ruins of Grozny are, perhaps, the ruins of democratic Russia itself.
And even the bravest women may quail at the task of rebuilding that
shattered edifice. Grozny's troubles are far from over, but the women of
the city are determined to rebuild their lives, at home and (far left and
below right) at the main railway station. The menfolk, meanwhile, are
mostly in exile or in hiding
PENNILESS SOLDIERS IN CHECHNYA FIGHT FOR THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 17 Sep 00
[Correspondent] People in Chechnya have seen so much it is difficult to
surprise them anymore. But it happened last week. Lawyers appeared in
Chechnya. So far there are two of them. They have no bodyguards, and anyone
can approach them for help. Especially since it is free of charge. But a
few days passed and nobody bothered them. So the lawyers started wondering
what they could do to help our soldiers. There is plenty of scope for them
to help. For several months now, thin and unshaven men have been hanging
around in the dusty streets of the Chechen village of Znamenskoye, in
scruffy semi-military uniforms. These are soldiers from the local garrison
[Russian: kommendantskaya rota]. The locals call them "kommendachi" and are
not at all scared of them. On the contrary, and despite their own meagre
existence, the locals give them food. Stallholders sell to them on credit.
Auntie Roza sells seeds and cold drinks, and keeps a slate of all the
soldiers who owe her money. The soldiers themselves say that nearly all of
them here are deep in debt.
[Correspondent off-camera] How do you manage without money?
[Young soldier] All we think about is getting food and smokes. We're
supposed to be on full allowances and pay here, but we get nothing at all.
No tobacco ration, nothing at all. We're not even issued with uniforms. We
have to buy our clothes and uniforms ourselves. That's how we live here.
We're supposed to be getting R1,000 [a month]. But in a month your average
guy [changes thought] everyone here has a family. We've all got wives and
kids and we have to decide whether to send something to them or leave a
little for a smoke. Or wander along the market stalls scrounging cigarettes
on credit. We haven't been paid for four months. And we're not just sitting
here doing nothing, we have our soldiers' jobs to do.
[Correspondent] Having got together and aired their grievances, the
soldiers sent their spokesmen to see the Russian president's representative
for human rights in Chechnya. Vladimir Kalamanov was amazed by this
unexpected visit, but did not show it. When he understood the seriousness
of the situation, he was brief and to the point.
[V. Kalamanov, Russian presidential representative for human rights in
Chechnya - captioned] This is something new for us, to be honest. Until now
we've been looking after the locals. But you are in Chechnya and you work
here, so I'll take up your case. See you next time.
[Correspondent] At the appointed time the soldiers came back with their
commanding officer and the talk started of wage arrears.
[Soldier] When we came here back in June we were told: wait a little, your
allowances are coming through. Just wait a week. After the elections, we
were told: your allowances are coming through, just wait a bit.
[Officer] That's what I was told as well.
[Kalamanov] Let's try and arrange something. What's clear is -
[Officer] I don't have the money.
[Kalamanov] If the money isn't there it just has to be found. I can try the
federal budget, you try the defence ministry. This has to be sorted out.
We're trying to establish law and order here and the laws of the Russian
Federation also apply to those who are upholding the laws...
September 15, 2000
By Alexander Kostiaev
Alexander Kostiaev is a teacher of modern languages living and working in
Britain. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.
The article "Can Schools Adapt to New Era's Realities?" f published Sept. 1
in this paper f offered a view on the woeful state of education in this
country. The article, though, shows no insight into the science of
pedagogics, nor any recognition of the unsurpassed achievements of Russian
schooling as reflected in its democratic accessibility, quality and
manifestly high standards.
Perhaps that is for the best, though, for ignorance is bliss. If the author
awoke to the realities of the issue, he would cringe with horror at realizing
the inadequacy and state of terminal decay of the education systems in
It all starts with the attitude toward schooling. In this country, pedagogics
is seen as the means of preserving, mastering and sharing collective wisdom,
values, knowledge and experience f a process that requires the best of the
nation's minds, sustaining generations of outstanding
scientists-methodologists. But schooling in the West is no more than an
afterthought, an annoying must to endure.
In this nation, schooling is a science studied at the higher-education level,
but teaching in the West is the last resort for those unfortunate enough not
to make the grade to do real subjects (obscurities like geography with
women's studies). Teaching colleges remain the domain of academic outcasts,
where incompetence breeds incompetence. It is this perverse attitude to
schooling itself that undermines the quality of education and ultimately its
Until a few years ago, Britain had no national curriculum standardizing and
ensuring skill and proficiency targets for secondary schools. Sitting in on a
class in a British school is a sobering experience. The primitiveness of
tasks relative to the age; the absence of any meaningful program or
examination procedures; the lack of motivation you'd expect from their
Russian counterparts f all are in evidence.
Contrary to sending a child to schools in the Soviet Union and in today's
Russia, sending a child to school in the West is a gamble due to vastly
varying standards and quality of education. The absence of a competitive
culture in schools, the thirst for knowledge and ultimately real, enduring
social values (which ensure academic assurance in this country) mean there is
no fertile ground for developing a person's potential or creativity and for
nurturing talent in contemporary Western "democratic" societies. Instead,
moral decay, pervading ignorance (often blindly attributed to financial
deprivation) and mediocrity characterize today's "free market" countries. In
the West, class is a measure of one's wealth; in this country, it is a
measure of one's educational and cultural standing.
Sixty percent of British school graduates are functionally illiterate; they
lack the basic numeracy, reading and writing skills to fill out a job
application. The situation elsewhere in the West is just as alarming.
Higher education elsewhere in the West is just as woeful. Lectures at
universities amount to photocopying arbitrarily selected pages from a book
claiming relevance to the subject and reading out basic facts to the class.
There is no place for seminars in the students' vocabulary, not to mention in
the university itself. Lectures to most students are no more than a nuisance,
getting in the way of their carefree pastimes f an immoral, dissipated
existence, which was the reason they went to a university in the first place.
For it is the consumption of alcohol and the quantitative achievement for
casual sexual partners that command more respect with peers than academic
The yawning gap in knowledge between an astute Russian student and his
embarrassingly unaware Western counterpart becomes apparent during joint
university classes. Shameful ignorance of the Western group on virtually
every subject discussed puts most Russian students head and shoulders above
With an average academic week of no more than 10 hours, rudimental academic
and examination standards, plummeting attendance numbers resulting from the
lack of personal discipline cannot but be a consequence of the sorry state of
most Western countries' educational systems.
University degrees in the West have no more that a token value f today a more
common requirement for employment that warrants no skill, knowledge and more
frequently, intelligence. It is no surprise that staffing is done on the
strength of one's personality and pretentious and superficial allegiance to
those in authority. Hardly any consideration is given to professional
qualifications, which in most cases are not substantive or typically are
false (i.e. exist only on a resume), a truth known to every employer.
The results of a recent study on world literacy released by UNESCO
demonstrate conclusively the shocking, medieval level of illiteracy (which as
a phenomenon ceased to exist in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s) across
the "democratic, free market" countries, with the United States coming toward
the bottom of the list of industrialized nations, followed by Canada, the
United Kingdom and Australia. A remotely disgraceful account would be a
source of national grief in Russia f apart from being totally inconceivable.
But don't expect the low score to infuse any sense of shame or humiliation in
the West, where the notion of the perpetual pursuit of happiness f a
euphemism for selfish self-indulgence and the feel-good factor f sum up the
values and national ideals, and where the mass media (trivial and insular at
best; biased and irresponsible at worst) is the only source of education.
Since it has been stated with authority that our nation's education system
cannot survive in a "democratic" and "free market" society, the Russians
choose not to join the "democratic" and "free market" societies, for they
would become an endangered species.