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Johnson's Russia List
4 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: RUSSIA HAS 3 MILLION INTERNET USERS.
2. Reuters: Ron Popeski, Russia keeps powder dry with Yugoslav
3. Itar-Tass: ILLEGAL TRANSFER OF CAPITAL FROM RUSSIA CUT.
4. Interfax: MOST RUSSIANS AGAINST CURBING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION -
5. U.S. News & World Report: Mortimer B. Zuckerman, A Great Step
6. Moscow Times: Pavel Felgenhauer, New Foundation, Old Ideas.
7. Vek: Nikolai Poroskov, AT THE TOP OF "POWER PYRAMID."
A Sketch of the State's Military Set-Up.
8. Current History: Lilia Shevtsova, Yeltsin and the Evolution of
Electoral Monarchy in Russia.]
RUSSIA HAS 3 MILLION INTERNET USERS
Moscow, 3rd October: The rate of Internet users in Russia has increased by
2.5 times to 3 million in 2000, Deputy Minister of Communications and
Information Technology Aleksandr Volokitin said at the opening of the
Internetcom 2000 show today.
Forty per cent of the users are people aged from 18 to 24. About 35 million
people would like to have an access to the Internet global web but cannot do
that for financial reasons.
"We have good chances to become an equal member of the world telecom
community," Volokitin stressed.
ANALYSIS-Russia keeps powder dry with Yugoslav initiative
October 3, 2000
By Ron Popeski
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin's bid to mediate in Yugoslavia's
disputed election offers the tantalizing prospect of rejuvenating Russian
diplomacy and tackling a problem that the West has failed to solve.
But analysts said Tuesday Putin's offer involved keeping all his options
open, and finely balancing Russia's long-standing ties with fellow Orthodox
Serbs against the Kremlin's drive to establish the West as a ``strategic
And the gambit to host incumbent Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and
challenger Vojislav Kostunica to prevent a descent into new bloodshed may not
even get off the ground.
Neither initially displayed much enthusiasm for the proposal issued by Putin,
who anyway is visiting India until Thursday. Kostunica has since made it
known that he will go if invited officially.
Milosevic's camp, backed by election officials, says he trailed Kostunica in
the first round but as neither won 50 percent, a runoff is required Sunday.
Kostunica says he won the poll outright and his supporters have staged
marches and strikes to back up their threat to boycott any runoff.
Russian officials remained confident that rising tension could force both
sides to consider the mediation offer.
``I am sure that by the end of the week we can achieve some sort of
understanding between the two candidates,'' Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of
parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters.
``Each must think of his own prospects and of the fate of their country. We
therefore see President Putin's proposal as the only correct and possible one
in the current situation.''
RUSSIA COULD USE YUGOSLAV SITUATION TO BOOST DIPLOMACY
Russian analysts suggested that Moscow could exploit the situation to give
battered post-Soviet diplomacy a boost.
The West led by the United States, they said, had lost any influence by
proclaiming Kostunica the winner and calling for Milosevic to appear before
the U.N. tribunal in The Hague on charges of war crimes against ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo.
``Russia has a chance to influence the situation as there has been no clear
victory for Kostunica. A go-between is needed to resolve the situation and
Russia is clearly best placed,'' said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy head of the
USA and Canada Institute.
``The West wants to neutralize Milosevic and only Russia can help. Russia has
no intention of arresting Milosevic or turning him over to The Hague. But it
could offer him asylum. Russia could use the situation to boost its
Western countries, publicly committed to a Kostunica victory in the first
round, have given a cautious welcome to Putin's offer -- provided it achieved
the desired result.
``We welcome any constructive contribution Russia makes to secure a peaceful
transition of power in Yugoslavia,'' a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who visited Moscow last week, told
parliament in Paris that Russia's views ``generally converge with ours, as
they are not accommodating toward Milosevic. They have only one goal: to let
democracy be established in Serbia. The current situation is a handicap for
Russia and they want the page to be turned.''
The Russian stance had appeared up in the air in the aftermath of the
election, before Putin's mediation offer made it plain that the Kremlin
backed the official Yugoslav version of the election -- no clear winner and a
German officials went so far at the weekend as to issue a statement that
Putin and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had agreed in a telephone conversation
that Kostunica was the winner.
RUSSIAN POLICY SUBJECT TO CONSTRAINTS
But diplomats privately said they understood Russian policy was subject to
difficult constraints little more than a year after its denunciation of NATO
bombings of Yugoslavia.
``Russia and the West appear to be moving toward an endgame for Milosevic.
But the Russians must stick to a twin track approach,'' said a Western
diplomatic source in Moscow.
``They adopt this stance in private with Western leaders, while appearing to
be acting in good faith with both sides in their public statements to satisfy
domestic public opinion. You cannot expect abrupt changes in policy
Another diplomatic source in Western Europe saw no contradictions in the
``They face a problem due to last week's dithering and inactivity,'' the
source said. ``Last week they seemed to be taken by surprise and have sent
out conflicting signals as a result.''
Russian analysts said they hoped the initiative would at least keep Russia's
``If the peace mission succeeds, Russia will be riding high. The West will
have to go along with compromises which might be agreed by the two sides and
Moscow would again be viewed by its Slav allies as the 'wiser older
brother','' Interfax news agency said in a commentary.
But failure, it quoted diplomatic sources as saying, would not necessarily
count against Moscow as ``the West will then have to deal with Milosevic
themselves and that is fraught with more tensions in the Balkans.''
ILLEGAL TRANSFER OF CAPITAL FROM RUSSIA CUT
St Petersburg, 3rd October, ITAR-TASS correspondent Yuliya Andreyeva: Illegal
transfer of capital from Russia dropped by two thirds in 2000 compared to
1999, police Maj-Gen Aleksandr Mikhaylenko, deputy chief of the main
directorate for fighting economic crime, told journalists today. He said this
was thanks to the measures taken by the Russian Central Bank which, together
with specialists from the Interior Ministry, had drawn up and published new
instructions which considerably curtailed the scope for fictitious deals
under whose cover capital was transferred to offshore zones.
Aleksandr Mikhaylenko said that signing contracts for consulting services was
the most popular method. Following joint measures taken by the Interior
Ministry and the Central Bank the illegal transfer of 680m dollars from
Russia was prevented, and 132 criminal cases were opened over failure to
return monetary funds from abroad.
MOST RUSSIANS AGAINST CURBING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION - POLL
Moscow, 3rd October: Over half of the 1,500 Russians polled by the
All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre at the end of September - a total
of 52 per cent - said that freedom of expression should not be curbed for the
sake of the country's salvation. As few as 30 per cent said it should.
Nearly half of those polled - 46 per cent - feel the authorities do not
threaten the freedom of expression or curb the independence of mass media,
while 30 per cent believe they do.
Meanwhile, nearly one-third - 31 per cent - think that tighter state control
over the mass media would benefit Russia, while 27 per cent believe it would
harm the country and 29 per cent are convinced that it would not do much good
Asked why businessman and media magnate Boris Berezovskiy placed his shares
in the ORT [Russian Public TV] channel in trust of journalists and
intellectuals, 60 per cent said that his goal was to keep control over ORT in
his hands, 6 per cent believe that in doing so he acted to protect the
freedom of expression, 5 per cent offered other explanations and 29 per cent
U.S. News & World Report
October 9, 2000
A Great Step Backward
By Mortimer B. Zuckerman, editor-in-chief
Russia has ended its love affair with the West. It is now reinventing
itself, and the portents are disquieting. The Russian people, and the
world, may have to wait for yet another generation of leaders before they
can prosper in a truly democratic state.
All of usand I include myselfwho hoped that Russia could build a
Western-style democracy and market economy underestimated the historic
obduracies of Russian feudalism and Soviet bureaucracy. A decade was not
enough time to adapt to ideas and institutions that had been maturing for
hundreds of years in the West. The gap between being a liberal and being a
thief disappeared. Russians came to believe that the best way to get ahead
was through cronyism and corruption rather than hard work. The subsequent
socioeconomic collapse was greater than ever known before in an advanced
Today there is a new president, Vladimir Putin. It is not at all clear if
democracy is his ultimate goal. What is clear is that his authoritarian
methods are focused on restoring a centralized Russian state whose power
relies on fear, not persuasion or education. He presides over a group of
criminal oligarchs, former KGB and military men, and old communist
apparatchiks, most of whom would have been right at home in the higher
echelons of the Soviet government. Intelligence agents are now part of the
presidential directorate; special military counterintelligence departments
have been restored. "You can't get anywhere without secret agents," Putin
has said. Putin expresses pride in his own KGB background, without seeming
to understand how the KGB made the Soviet Union a place of fear, even
terror, for most of the past century.
Law enforcement today seems less a matter of law than of politics. Putin
has centralized the appointment of judges at the national level. He has
reduced their life terms to a defined number of years, increasing their
dependency on the central government. Politically, he has altered the
composition of the senior national legislative body, organizing the country
into seven super-regions administered by presidential appointees with the
power to remove local governments. Five of these supergovernors are secret
police and military officials.
A publisher who criticizes policies can expect to be menaced by the legal
and political apparatus of the state; a journalist can expect to be
attacked, even killed, for just trying to do the normal job of reporting.
Putin's minister of information, Mikhail Lesin, sees the major TV networks
as no more than presidential critics and, consequently, those who control
them have been targets of selective prosecution.
Police raided Media-Most, which owns Russia's only independent television
network, and left behind packets containing illegal bullets. Since
possession of these is a criminal offense, the police are suspected once
again of planting evidence. The owner of another network has said that
Putin threatened him with criminal prosecution and jail time if he would
not transfer his media holdings to the state. The Russian Union of
Journalists reports that government officials at every level are limiting
their ability to report and comment by denying broadcast licenses and
revoking certain tax breaks. The leading TV personality, Sergei Dorenko,
has had his regular Saturday night program yanked off the air because his
bosses fear critical remarks about the president will invite a punitive
reaction. Lesin went so far as to guarantee that the owner of Media-Most
would not be prosecuted if he sold his media interestsa clear indication
that justice can be bought if it advances the administration's political
interests. I have firsthand knowledge of Lesin's tactics. He threatened me
directly in relation to a newspaper in which I am a financial partner,
asserting he would shut it down if it did not cease its exposés of the
financial shenanigans of the Yeltsin administration and the Yeltsin family.
I protested his threat in the strongest terms, and we have continued our
aggressive reporting, so far without state interference.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 81-year-old Nobel Prize writer, has long
favored a strong Russian state, but even he recently denounced the
recentralizing of power. Putin simply does not yet understand that for
Russia to flourish, Russians must acquire independence, not from the
aristocracy or the landowners or business, but from the state.
Russia has long been dangerous for its military strength. It is now
dangerous for its political weakness. This time the West can do little
September 28, 2000
DEFENSE DOSSIER: New Foundation, Old Ideas
By Pavel Felgenhauer
Last week, in the newly built, splendid mansion of the Gorbachev Foundation,
a Russia-U.S. association to promote mutual friendship had its inaugural
meeting. It was a grand event, chaired by former Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev himself and addressed by many dignitaries, past and present.
James Collins, the U.S. ambassador, said several pleasant encouraging words
about a "new era in our relations" in heavily accented Russian, very
reminiscent of the voice of U.S. President Bill Clinton's puppet on "Kukly,"
the weekly political satire on NTV. Several Russian speakers agreed that now
is the right time to foster Russia-U.S. relations and that Gorbachev should
become president of the association. Gorbachev said that he has not yet
decided, but that he will consider that possibility.
Several speakers quoted opinion polls that show the majority of Russia's
citizens are not in fact anti-American, so there are no reasons for
Russia-U.S. relations to be strained in the future. But the chief of the main
research institute of the Strategic Missile Forces, General Vladimir Dvorkin,
did not agree: "In Russia's military-political elite and in the State Duma
anti-Americanism is widespread and very strong," he warned.
This warning was well-placed, as the Russia-U.S. friendship proceedings
turned ugly as speaker after speaker attacked the West in terms that can
hardly be considered politically correct.
Vladimir Lukin, a well-known Duma deputy from the liberal Yabloko faction,
scolded the United States for trying to establish relations with the "leader
of Tbilisi" against Russia. Lukin later explained that there is no such thing
as a Georgian state f "it does not exist" f so he calls Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze the "leader of Tbilisi."
Academician Nodari Simonia from the Institute of International Economics and
International Relations f a close associate of Gorbachev since the 1980s, and
considered by many in the West to have been an "internal dissident inside the
Soviet establishment" f announced that "the United States ignored corruption
in Russia under former President [Boris] Yeltsin," but are now pronouncing
Russia corrupt "because they [U.S. representatives] do not like Russia's
present political and national consolidation."
Nikolai Shmelev, deputy director of the Institute of Europe and a known
"reformer" in the late 1980s, said, "We did not do anything anti-American;
our dealings with bandits in Chechnya is our internal matter, but the West
tricked us on NATO expansion. The bombing of Yugoslavia was also aimed at
Russia. We are next in line; the U.S. wants to destroy Russia's last trump
card f the nuclear deterrent f and deal with us as with the Serbs."
Gorbachev himself did not sound very pro-Western or friendly. "If the United
States rejects Russia, an anti-American alternative alliance backed by 90
percent of the Earth's population may form. If China, India and Russia arise
together, no one will be able to deal with them. The West cannot even deal
with Kosovo," he added.
Gorbachev said that Russia's future is great, that its scientific and
technological potential is enormous. Then he lashed out: "Someone in the
auditorium seems not to agree with me." (There were not many left listening,
and any frown was easily visible.) "Aha, I believe it's a journalist [Pavel
Felgenhauer]. It's you, journalists, who destroyed Russia; you smeared it
with a layer of dirt and tar."
Gorbachev's outburst sounds very familiar. Recently, after the sinking of the
Kursk submarine, President Vladimir Putin declared, "There are people in
television" that have destroyed Russia, its army and navy. It is hardly
surprising that this week, after meeting Putin in the Kremlin, Gorbachev
proclaimed that both of them hold similar views on press freedom. Of course
they do; they both hate the idea, as true Soviet apparatchiks should.
In public, our statesmen try to pronounce buzzwords about "democracy,"
"freedom," of "being part of Western civilization." But in fact almost the
entire elite of this nation f "reformist" and "conservative" alike f still
dwells on delusions of past Soviet imperial glory. Moscow is still running
old Soviet policies of trying to balance U.S. influence worldwide, of
supporting anti-Western regimes in Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia and elsewhere,
policies that are counterproductive and self-defeating. The new Russia-U.S.
forum exposed these delusions, but it's hard to see how the proceedings in
Gorbachev's Foundation can cure them.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
AT THE TOP OF "POWER PYRAMID"
A Sketch of the State's Military Set-Up
By Nikolai POROSKOV
Russia's Security Council has had a working meeting to
review state policy on military planning and produce new
guidelines for the development of the state's military set-up
until 2010. The President instructed heads of diverse military
departments to take a look at their resources and to make
proposals on reforming the state's military set-up, although
the central issues are already clear. All in all, apart from
the Defence Ministry, there are 11 departments in the country
with power structures. They all number about three million men.
Their maintenance costs the budget up to 35 per cent of its
Future plans envisage cutting down "power structures" by a
total of 600,000 men. It is already known that the armed forces
proper will be reduced by 350,000 servicemen.
The President said he favoured elimination of parallel
troop units, which were squandering the military budget, but
there would be no wholesale reduction, with spending on defence
and security remaining at the same level, since "we have no
right to employ people on bare enthusiasm." According to the
President, reserves for maintaining the armed forces will also
be sought in other departments. And in general the principle of
forming power structures - compact size and efficiency - were
described by the President as a first step towards a
An expert commission, led by Sergei Ivanov, did not
recommend the President as yet to take any decisions, partly
because some army leaders want only "a face-lift" for their
departments. In the first half of November, the Security
Council will in the same format (with all who were present,
including presidential envoys to federal districts) gather to
discuss the same problems.
The current meeting is another confirmation of the fact
that the Security Council is turning from an advisory into a
directive centre. It is now in fact an inter-departmental
collegium of national dimensions. Sergei Ivanov's influence on
Vladimir Putin, to judge from comments by political scientists,
is hard to overestimate.
Ivanov is the ninth secretary of the Security Council
since it was formed in June 1992, but never before, under none
of his predecessors, has this body played such a key role in
state affairs. It was following approval by the Security
Council that the concepts of national security and foreign
policy have recently been adopted, and military and information
security doctrines. Looming ahead are laws on the armed forces,
martial law and the state of emergency, anti-corruption law, a
law on ecology... All of them in one way or another have roots
in the Security Council.
The Council's brief is broadening and with it its clout
and significance. As soon as the President of Armenia or the
German Foreign Minister arrives, they are met by
representatives of the Security Council; the Security Council
discusses sales of T-90 tanks to India and inspection of the
42nd division in Chechnya;
even an inflow of Italian investments in Russia and its entry
to the World Trade Organisation are taken up by it. With the
installation of presidential envoys to federal districts in it,
the Council is now in a position to control and monitor the
Analysts are already hinting at the siphoning off of power
from the presidential administration to the Security Council.
The latter also coordinates the work of secret services. And it
turns out that although there is no intelligence community in
this country like in America, nominally it exists.
Incidentally, with the advent of Putin, the Security Council
has fewer "civilian" representatives of the government, and
more military ones. At the same time, the Security Council has
been paying much more attention to economic security. This is
evident from the appointment of former Trade Minister Mikhail
Fradkov as Ivanov's deputy. In general, strong figures in the
Security Council are galore.
And strong decisions, too. Some well-informed sources
claim that the world-shaking ideas of a preventive strike at
militant camps in Afghanistan and a proposal to set up Europe's
common air defence originated from the Security Council.
Following the pattern of the federal Security Council,
nearly all republics and even regions have set up their own
security councils. And although the law does not provide for
their direct subordination to "Ivanov's outfit," everything can
change. Independent experts are already calling the Security
Council a second government or its back-up. With the probable
subordination of regional councils to it, the structure becomes
In the Security Council's history there was an episode
when its head Alexander Lebed tried to concentrate power within
that body. The President was not chairman of the Security
Council at that time. Putin corrected this mistake by
appointing himself as its chairman in a 29 May 2000 decree. It
was under Putin that the Security Council acquired the status
of a special centre generating the state's geopolitical
strategy. The existing body compares neither with the
presidential council under "early" Yeltsin nor with the
presidential consultative council that functioned in 1996-1998,
nor for that matter with the former Security Council which was
in fact a "Ministry on Chechnya." The power vertical, so much
in the news lately, is in practice a three-sided pyramid which
rests on the presidential administration, the government and
the Security Council. The shifting of gravity to one of its
points may be indicating where we will see its actual top.
Yeltsin and the Evolution of Electoral Monarchy in Russia
By Lilia Shevtsova
Lilia Shevtsova is a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace in the Moscow office.
The coming to power of hitherto unknown former KGB Colonel Vladimir
Putin may help resolve the argument over what kind of system arose in
Russia during Boris Yeltsin's time in office. Putin must prove how solid
the foundations of the democratic tendencies that developed in Russia are
and how tenacious the legacy of the past will be. Under Putin we will be
able to see to what degree Russia is still a country stuck in the
transition from an imperialist messianic autocracy to a liberal democracy.
What happens to Yeltsin's legacy under a new ruler and the further
evolution of the regime he founded will also help resolve the question: Who
was this first democratically elected Russian president? A great destroyer,
a revolutionary, a reformer, or a man of the past who, on the crest of a
wave carrying the hopes of millions of supporters, brought a small
oligarchic group to power?1
YELTSIN, THE REVOLUTIONARY APPARATCHIK?
To understand Russia's further evolution and the rule of its new
president, Vladimir Putin, one must come to an assessment of Boris
Yeltsin's legacy, since Russia still lives in his shadow. For the new
ruling team, what Yeltsin has bequeathed Russia is both a fundamental
challenge and an obstacle that dictates certain rules of the game.
At first glance, Boris Yeltsin was what the overwhelming majority of
scholars think he was: the revolutionary "terminator" who destroyed not
only communism, but with it, the Soviet empire-state. Yet Yeltsin's role
was not so straightforward and the figure of Yeltsin the revolutionary may
soon be revised. Yeltsin became Russia's leader not only because he could
express the mood of the anticommunist elements of society, but also because
in the eyes of another part of society-conservative members of the
nomenklatura-he remained an element of the Soviet bureaucratic machine and
therefore embodied continuity with the past. That Yeltsin could become
simultaneously a symbol of continuity and change helped him consolidate
Russian society; it also helped him to victory in his battle against Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to hold the Soviet Union together.
Extremely important for the formation of Yeltsin's leadership was that he
was not a dissident like Andrei Sakharov but an insurgent from the ranks of
the system itself who still maintained ties to it. Thus, for some forces
Yeltsin ensured a decisive break with the past; for others, his
nomenklatura past was a guarantee that no radical purge or revolution would
sweep away the old ruling class. Yeltsin's revolutionary rhetoric helped
him create the appearance of a complete break with the past, but that break
was never as clean as was imagined at first, nor could it have been.
Yeltsin's destruction of the Soviet state looks less like a revolution than
a palace coup.
From the very beginning, Yeltsin was simultaneously a destroyer and a
conservative; the combination of these two roles allowed him to prevent the
utter collapse of the old system while also blocking him from consistently
moving along the liberal-democratic path. The duality of Yeltsin's initial
role could not but give birth to further ambiguities in his political
At the launch of the new Russia in December 1991-when Yeltsin and his
followers were established in power and Russian society was still full of
revolutionary enthusiasm and hopes for democratic change-the country was
ready to make great sacrifices in the name of a bright future. The main
structures of the party-nomenklatura system, including the so-called power
ministries-the ministries of interior and defense and the Federal Security
Service-were weakened or were self-destructing. Yet a host of factors
complicated Russia's movement toward liberal democracy. Democratization in
Russia was not preceded by a successful period of decompression and
liberalization, that, as in Poland and Hungary, made it easier to part with
the communist past. The process of postcommunist transformation was
complicated by the need to build a new state, democratize, and create a
market economy all at once.
Of course, Yeltsin himself-the weight of his political experience, his
mentality and habits, his education, his ambition and efforts-also
influenced postcommunist Russia's course. Undoubtedly, Yeltsin at the
beginning of his tenure sincerely strove to revive Russia as a member of
Western society and was ready to support far-reaching steps to reform the
planned economy. Yet in politics, he never gave anyone reason to think he
was a democrat. In fact, he was exactly the opposite; his ideal was the
personalistic model of rule, which, from the very beginning, included
distinctly monarchical features of a byzantine character. He explained his
vision of government: "To be blunt, someone in the country has to be in
Yeltsin never understood the need for an opposition and political
pluralism. He considered the power he had received to be something sacred,
virtually God-given; any attempt by other politicians to remove it was
unthinkable. That he did not liquidate all his political opponents and
sometimes tolerated devastating criticism, both from the opposition and
from journalists, was because he did not see them as a threat to his rule.
When he saw a real threat, he did not stop halfway; he sought the complete
annihilation of his opponents. Confronted with a hostile parliament in
1993, he did not shrink from using tanks or from the prospect of the loss
of human life.
Yeltsin's team of young reformers, under the leadership of Yegor Gaidar,
also relied not on the creation of democratic institutions and mechanisms
of checks and balances but on Yeltsin's personalistic leadership, on the
"presidential vertikal"-a superpresidential regime based on subordination
to Yeltsin's office. Some reformers openly called for the establishment of
something like a Pinochetist regime in Russia. In part, the antidemocratic
nature of the first generation of Russian reformers was a consequence of
their lack of confidence in their position and their fear of losing power
in the free play of political forces; it was also the result of their
striving to conduct the most painful economic measures as quickly as
possible, without resorting to too many compromises and social pacts.
Yeltsin and his team of reformers-who, in those first days had no small
influence on the first Russian president-are mainly responsible for missing
the window of opportunity that offered a departure from the paradigm of
monarchical power through the adoption of a new constitution and the
building of political institutions on the basis of the separation of
powers. Of course, the question remains: Could a provincial politician who
had never before thought in terms of the separation of powers and was
accustomed to a personalist, directive-giving style of governing
consciously decide to limit his own power in a transition to a completely
new (for him) formula of government? Most likely not, especially since
Yeltsin never felt serious pressure, either from society or from democratic
forces that could have compelled him to take another course. Dismantling
the Russian monolith will occur only if society itself forces the
government to move in that direction.
THE PAST RECAPTURED
What has arisen from Yeltsin's rule? The regime Yeltsin created was a
hybrid with democratic, authoritarian, and oligarchic elements that can be
conditionally defined as a constitutional electoral monarchy. The Russian
government rests on a constitution approved in a 1993 referendum. That
constitution, however, is not the result of a social contract between
government and society nor even the consequence of a pact among various
political forces. It was instead the outcome of the victory of one
force-Yeltsin's-that had liquidated its enemies, proposed its own political
rules of the game to society, and used all the state's resources to
guarantee that these rules would be approved. This government received
legitimation through regular and relatively free elections (a process that
often deluded scholars who saw this as confirmation that the Yeltsin regime
was democratic). Yet the Yeltsin regime acted in the interests of narrow
oligarchic groups and often resorted to authoritarian or semiauthoritarian
measures. The Yeltsin regime included contradictory elements that gave it a
certain plasticity and enabled it to evolve either toward a more defined
democracy or toward open authoritarianism. However, the Yeltsin regime
itself created tension and instability and could not resolve the internal
conflict between the government's democratic legitimation and the
semiauthoritarian, semimonarchical manner in which it functioned.
Remarkably, postcommunist Russia has reproduced a model of government
that, with various modifications, has existed in that country for
centuries. This government relies on a leader-arbiter who stands above the
fray and regulates relations among the traditional blocs of Russian
politics: regional blocs, "power ministries," and ideological and
bureaucratic blocs. (These blocs also play the role of behind-the-scenes
checks and balances, which take the place of a mechanism of institutional
counterweights.) If the formula of personalistic leadership and its very
style were borrowed by Yeltsin's elite from the czarist past, certain other
elements indicate a continuity with the Soviet period-especially the
Communist Party, which is now the main organized political opposition and,
paradoxically, the most important systemic element in the post-Soviet
Yet Yeltsinism was more than a mechanical repetition of the past. Since
the former means of legitimation-through military force, party ideology, or
empire-had been exhausted, Yeltsinism could not exist without resorting to
democratic legitimation. Not only was this the most important means of
survival for this semimonarchical government, it was the main factor that
constantly rocked the regime's foundations, making it even more unstable
and vulnerable. Despite its effective mechanism for manipulating election
results, the need to go through the purgatory of elections engendered
constant uncertainty in the ruling class and, at the same time, a desire to
minimize the role of democratic procedures.
A regime of this sort cannot be consolidated; if it were, no room would be
left for the regulating role of the leader-arbiter, who needs constant
tension and a prolongation of the revolutionary cycle. The reason Russia
under Yeltsin could not emerge from the revolutionary period was a
consequence not so much of Yeltsin's restless personality as of the logic
of the government he created, which demands constant shocks and provokes
conflicts only to seek their resolution. Not suited for constructive,
creative work, without any vision for the future, constantly occupied by
the pursuit of group interests, this government finds it useful to
endlessly prolong the revolutionary period. (And this presupposes the
preservation of the Communist Party as the main opposition force, the use
of anticommunist rhetoric to consolidate society, and the ongoing search
for enemies and scapegoats whom it can blame for its own failures.)
YELTSINISM UNDER YELTSIN
Despite the president's vast powers, the Yeltsin regime could not
implement its decisions effectively. Guaranteeing the implementation of
decisions by force (which had been possible in earlier stages of autocracy)
no longer worked, and a mechanism for legal guarantees had not been
created. Yeltsin was forced either to appeal to influential groups for help
or to create new ones by giving them a share of government power and state
property in exchange for their support and loyalty. The result was a new
intermingling of power and property and the emergence of oligarchic groups
that, within the framework of the electoral monarchy, played the role of
"court favorites." But each time the president appealed to various interest
groups (regional, economic, military, or bureaucratic) for support, the
presidency itself was devalued and its influence weakened. In the final
analysis, this led to the formation of a regime that could be described as
Behind-the-scenes structures and informal centers of decision making and
lobbying thus played a unique role during Yeltsin's tenure. On one hand,
their existence (the presidential administration, for example, plays a
unique role in the functioning of government) permitted a narrow group of
the ruling class to lobby its interests successfully by "selling" the
decisions it required. On the other, the diversion of power into
behind-the-scenes networks meant a strengthening of oligarchic-patrimonial
rule, which could lead to dangerous conflicts with a more pluralist and
Despite deep internal conflict between democracy and authoritarianism,
Yeltsin's regime proved amazingly stable and adaptable. What enabled it to
survive was the absence of a political opposition ready and able to seize
power (the Communist Party wanted little more than to preserve its role as
the tame, rhetorical opposition); the fragmentation of the political class
and its unwillingness to resist the Kremlin ruling group; the appearance of
a developed system of paternalism and deals among various social groups;
and the passivity of society and its retreat into the "gray zone"-that is,
its survival through the existence of various (and not always legal)
shadowy economic mechanisms.
As Yeltsin's physical incapacity and his inability to handle everyday
government business became ever more obvious, the signs of the electoral
monarchy's degradation began to appear. The president increasingly limited
his contacts with the outside world and relied on his entourage, which
began to play the role of a court in a decaying monarchy. Since personal
loyalty to the president was the main condition for inclusion in the ruling
circle, the role of court favorites inevitably would grow as Yeltsin became
more suspicious of all potential rivals and limited his interests to the
mere desire to hold on to power. Favorites began to have a decisive role in
government as oligarchs and "gray cardinals." Soon members of Yeltsin's
family (above all his younger daughter, Tatyana) began to take over for the
president during his periods of incapacity caused by depression, alcohol
abuse, and other medical problems. The phenomenon of the so-called Family
arose; after 1996, it became the decisive factor in Russian politics. From
that moment, speaking of Yeltsin as a full-fledged ruler was difficult; one
could only guess which decisions were made for him or by him (but only
after preliminary manipulations on the part of his entourage). From a
once-powerful charismatic leader, Yeltsin gradually degenerated into a
powerless, pitiful old man, manipulated by nonentities who had found their
way in to the Kremlin.
The Yeltsin regime was unprepared to resolve the serious political and
economic crisis that began with the August 1998 financial collapse when the
Russian banking system nearly ceased to exist and a powerful blow was
delivered to the newly emerged middle class. By the fall, the country faced
the threat of government collapse. Yeltsin decided to undertake an
experiment, agreeing to the formation of a system of dual leadership that
placed responsibility for the country's development with Yevgeny Primakov,
the former Soviet-era apparatchik who became prime minister and who had the
support of the parliament. For the first time in Russian history,
government was divided.
Thanks to Yeltsin's experiment, the government made it through this
dangerous period. Unfortunately, no elements of society could force Yeltsin
and his entourage to formally establish this separation of powers in the
constitution. Yeltsin soon regained his confidence and returned to
electoral monarchy-the formula that gave him the opportunity to guarantee
the regime's continuity. By appointing Vladimir Putin as his successor,
organizing Putin's presidential campaign, and neutralizing Putin's
opponents, Yeltsin confirmed that the regime that had arisen in Russia has
little in common with democracy. Indeed, Yeltsin chose-or was persuaded by
his entourage to choose-Putin as his heir because the latter had already
proved his loyalty to the "Family" and was considered the person who could
best guarantee their personal security. As a representative of the security
services, he was also thought able to guarantee order during transition to
a new regime.
How can we define the role of Boris Yeltsin in the formation of Russia's
new political landscape? Did he act intentionally? Did he have a clear
vision of what he wanted to create, or did he simply float where the
current took him? The fight against the Russian parliament in 1991-1993,
the liquidation in 1993 of the parliament that had resisted him, and the
adoption of the constitution (which he managed himself) that became the
basis of the "superpresidency" testify that Yeltsin definitely understood
personal rule and consistently strove to establish it, without regard for
At the same time, despite periods of activity and toughness, Yeltsin was
essentially an indecisive man. His bursts of energy were combined with
increasingly long periods of paralysis of will, depression, and confusion.
Beginning in 1996 (and most likely even earlier), he had only one goal-to
maintain his grip on power and pass it on into reliable hands. All his
actions, including his unexpected resignation in December 1999, were
subordinated to this goal. Moreover, he sacrificed his image as a
revolutionary and a reformer to guarantee immunity from criminal
prosecution for himself and for his family-a dismal end for a leader whose
coming to power was greeted with such great hope. His entire reign had been
woven out of conflicts that he could not untangle.
Although the first Russian president formally had immense
powers-surpassing those wielded by some general secretaries of the Soviet
Communist Party-he often lacked the financial means to carry out his
decisions. Inclined by nature toward populism, he was deprived of public
support and the resources to implement his authoritarian habits. A leader
whose ideal governing structure was a "pyramid of power," he had to operate
in an atmosphere of ambiguity, pluralism, and disintegration. A politician
who hated compromises, he had to maneuver constantly, making deals and
concessions. Declaring his goal to be the building of democracy, he headed
a regime that many Russians consider to be oligarchic or patrimonial.
Retained in office through democratic elections, he was forced to preserve
his power by relying on political clans.
Our view of Yeltsin and assessment of his personality and leadership may
change over time; after all, the assessment of the leadership of Churchill
and de Gaulle has changed. Much depends on the evolution of his legacy and
the strength of the tendencies he set in motion. Yet it can already be seen
that he failed to establish himself in any of the roles he played: neither
as the terminator (he regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union), nor the
reformer (he did not have the consistency for it), nor the stabilizer (he
constantly provoked shakeups and could not lead the country out of its
revolutionary cycle). As soon became clear, he could not even create a
stable political order; his appointed heir has already begun to pave over
PUTIN AND YELTSIN'S LEGACY
The unexpected support that Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, has
received since his election as president in March 2000 stems from his
emergence as a symbol of continuity for Yeltsin's ruling group, which still
controls the main levers of power (in early August 2000, Putin's approval
rating was 73 percent; after the Kursk submarine disaster later that month,
65 percent still trusted and supported him). At the same time, a
significant portion of society sees him as a guarantee of change, a
farewell to a decrepit Yeltsin and an era that they would like to see
behind them. The longing for change, however, has acquired a new meaning
since the early days of Yeltsin's rule. For Russians disillusioned and
tired of Yeltsin's upheavals, it has come to mean order.
But what kind of order? For some, order means a return to stability in the
Soviet sense; for others, moderate reforms. And for some, order means the
nationalization of privatized property; for others, it is the "zero
option": a refusal to reexamine the results of Yeltsin's economic reforms
and a desire to go forward.
Putin, aware of these contradictions, has tried to remain an enigma for as
long as possible to ward off the collapse of his support. But soon the
logic of the Yeltsin regime will take over. For Yeltsin's group to agree to
turn over power voluntarily, it needed guarantees that his rules of the
game would not be changed; from all indications, it received such
guarantees from Putin.2 But for the heir to avoid the humiliation of being
seen as a hostage to the past, to "come out from Yeltsin's shadow," he has
had to take decisive measures to renovate the regime and replace its
previous base and closest supporters. Otherwise, Putin would have no chance
of keeping those who hoped for change-a clear majority of Russian
society-within his sphere of influence.
Thus, sooner or later, Putin had to begin an anti-Yeltsin revolution and
dismantle at least some elements of the regime that Yeltsin created. Rather
than use his unprecedented favorable poll ratings to reform the electoral
autocracy, Putin chose another path: the creation of a mechanism of
"transmission belts," the formation of a clearer and more consistent system
of subordination from top to bottom, and the liquidation of Yeltsin's
practice of behind-the-scenes checks and balances and his atmosphere of
Putin has attempted to give Russia's electoral monarchy vertical support,
harmony, and a Stalinesque chain of command. Decisions must be carried out
in military fashion, without dissent. In short, despite Putin's statements
about his adherence to liberal democracy, his actions show that he clearly
hopes to weaken the democratic component of the electoral monarchy while
simultaneously destroying its oligarchic component, which limits the
The steps he has taken since assuming office fit into the framework of
this "vertical," bureaucratic-authoritarian understanding of government.
These include the attempts by Putin and his team to rein in the independent
mass media and weaken their criticism of the government. They also include
his proposed reform of the relations between Moscow and the regions, which
would lead to a greater subordination of regional leaders to the central
But the first months of Putin's rule have already shown serious obstacles
to the implementation of his idea of transmission belts. In his attempt to
liquidate the atmosphere of "mutual tolerance" by putting pressure on the
media, regional barons, tycoons, and other influential groups. Putin
touched the interests of powerful strata that lived quite comfortably in
that atmosphere. After meeting resistance on several fronts (the liberal
technocrats did not like his policy either; they objected to the
restrictions of the freedom of the press), Putin was forced to agree to
compromise versions, which emasculated his idea of power based on
subordination. Most important, Putin himself undermined the possibility of
implementing his ideas by selectively forming a new order. Thus, he tried
to limit the regime's oligarchic design by removing or intimidating
opposition groups and groups that were dangerous for him personally while
maintaining a favorable atmosphere for the old Kremlin court that helped
him come to power and to whom he was still obliged. But in this case, any
exception to the rule made it impossible to create the order that Putin
wanted: the mechanism of transmission belts does not tolerate exceptions.
Moreover, not one of Putin's actions has been taken to its logical
conclusion. The president's representatives whom he has appointed in the
seven new federal districts to oversee the country's republics and regional
governments have not been given the authority to exert any real control
over the regional leaders. The arrest of the owner of the independent media
holding company NTV, Vladimir Gusinsky, which should have been intimidating
to the oligarchs and the independent press alike, ended with Gusinsky
nonetheless being freed after ludicrous charges were filed and dropped. The
attempt to restrict independent economic and political actors has led them
to behave more cautiously, but the threat that Kremlin decisions may be
sabotaged by them has increased.
Putin's idea of order based on transmission belts cannot be fully
implemented in a pluralistic society where the state does not have the
requisite repression and violence available. Putin's attempts to alter
Yeltsinism might end in authoritarian or even totalitarian steps that
cannot be completed. But a repetition of these steps will hardly make it
easier to strengthen democratic institutions in Russia. At the same time,
the incompleteness of these authoritarian or totalitarian moves will
discredit the government and reinforce the impression of its impotence.
The electoral monarchy that Yeltsin created can be modified in various
ways. Yet if the fundamental conflict that tears at the regime from
inside-the clash between its democratic legitimation and the personalistic,
noninstitutional manner in which it functions-is not resolved, it will
eventually face the same problems that Yeltsin's faced: the problem of
unaccountability and the need to relinquish some power to favorites and
oligarchs; the need to inflict revolutionary shocks to deflect
responsibility for the leader's mistakes; and the need to create a new
ruling group to replace the existing one, which does not want to leave and
wants its safety guaranteed. Of course, such a regime can hardly guarantee
that the economy will continue to function normally-which requires that the
rules of the game apply equally to everyone-and it cannot guarantee a
peaceful and effective resolution to crises.
Putin eventually might understand that the only way to survive is to
reform the electoral monarchy in the direction of a separation of powers
and the strengthening of all institutions, which would create the
conditions that strengthen his own presidency and free him from
responsibility for minor concerns. But on the way to such an understanding,
Putin and his team must overcome the illusions that are linked to his hopes
for new transmission belts and his faith in the unlimited possibilities of
the leader-arbiter. And Russian society must free itself of its desire for
stability at any price, including renouncing its hard-won freedoms and
returning to Soviet-style decay.
1On the character of Yeltsin's leadership, see Lilia Shevtsova, Yeltsin's
Russia: Myths and Reality (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, 1999).
2Members of Yeltsin's group that still remain in Putin's entourage include
the head of presidential staff, Alexander Voloshin, and the tycoons
Alexander Mamut and Roman Abramovich, with Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana and
family friend (and Yeltsin's chief of staff) Valentin Yumashev still
playing behind-the-scenes roles. Two other groups also make up Putin's
entourage: the liberal-technocrats like German Gref, Leonid Reiman, and
Alexei Kudrin, who are currently members of the government and
representatives of special services; and former Putin colleagues like head
of the Security Council Sergei Ivanov, presidential envoy to one of the
superregions Victor Cherkiesov, and head of the Federal Security Service