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Johnson's Russia List
5 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. RIA: GRID BOSS CHUBAYS HINTS HE MAY SUE CIA, CONGRESSMAN OVER
2. The Russia Journal: Putin real-estate article not published.
3. AP: Yeltsin Book Gives New Account.
4. Bloomberg: ORT's Vremya Is Most Trusted Russian News Program,
5. Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Mikhail Khodarenok, RUSSIA GETS BOGGED DOWN
IN YET ANOTHER CAUCASIAN WAR. A year after the beginning of the second
Chechen campaign it has become clear that the victory in battles did
not bring political success nearer.
6. Current History: Michael McFaul, Putin in Power.]
GRID BOSS CHUBAYS HINTS HE MAY SUE CIA, CONGRESSMAN OVER CORRUPTION REPORT
Russian news agency RIA
Moscow, 4th October: The chairman of the Unified Energy Systems of Russia
[UES] board, Anatoliy Chubays, has sent a letter to member of the US Congress
House of Representatives Christopher Cox, the author of the recently
published report "The Russian Road to Corruption" [name retranslated from
Russian]. In his report the congressman claims that the CIA allegedly has
information at its disposal on corruption among high-ranking officials in
Russia. Chubays' name is also mentioned, the UES media relations department
told RIA on Wednesday [4th October].
The department said that in his letter Chubays described such statements made
about him as "groundless and irresponsible because he had never been involved
Chubays demanded that the congressman inform him who, where and under which
circumstances had supplied Mr Cox with the "unsubstantiated accusations". He
writes that "it would only be fair to provide this information to me in order
for me to be able to defend my honour, refute such accusations and
insinuations and clear up the issue once and for all".
The UES representative has told RIA that Chubays takes the case very
seriously and is ready to meet any private person or organization and to sue
the CIA if it really disseminated the information.
Chubays has expressed readiness to help the US congressman "correct blatant
errors in his report". "I am serious in my intention to get to the truth in
the case. I hope you are, too", the letter says.
The Russia Journal
October 4, 2000
Putin real-estate article not published
MOSCOW --Today's issue of the daily Kommersant did not include an article
concerning a real estate property that Russian President Vladimir Putin
allegedly owns abroad, according to Russian sources.
Radio Ekho Moskvy said earlier that an article, exposing property in Spain
that Putin failed to report to the Central Electoral Commission ahead of the
presidential election would be published today.
Russian law requires candidates running for public office to disclose their
income for the previous year as well as their ownership of both real estate
and some other property such as cars, ships, yachts, helicopters and planes.
A public group is preparing an appeal to the Supreme court to annul the
results of the 2000 presidential election, which Putin narrowly won in the
first round, NTV television reported.
Radio Ekho Moskvy and NTV television are part of media magnate Vladimir
Gusinsky's media holdings. Gusinsky is locked in a bitter feud with
authorities and with gas giant Gazprom over the control of his media assets.
Kommersant is controlled by businessman Boris Berezovsky, whose position of
Kremlin insider also weakened consistently in recent months.
The Moscow-based English language daily Moscow Times claimed last month it
had enough evidence to show the election was rigged.
The paper talked to a number of witnesses in various Russian regions and
claimed the Central Electoral Commission fraudulently inflated the number of
Russian voters in March. /The Russia Journal/
Yeltsin Book Gives New Account
October 4, 2000
By ANNA DOLGOV
MOSCOW (AP) - Late last year, Boris Yeltsin abruptly scrapped the recording
of his annual New Year television address to the nation, telling puzzled
aides that he did not like the text and would do it again later.
What Yeltsin did not say was that he planned a very different speech - one
announcing his resignation.
The account of the last days of December 1999, leading to Yeltsin's dramatic
resignation, is in the ex-president's new book ``The Presidential Marathon''
- an emotional, personal story of his final years in office.
In excerpts published Wednesday in Russia's Argumenty i Fakty weekly, Yeltsin
wrote that he always liked to act quickly on his decisions - all except the
one to resign and hand over his powers at a symbolic moment, the turn of the
``Today everything is different,'' he wrote. ``Today I am carrying the burden
of a decision alone. Almost alone.''
Yeltsin said he decided to resign in mid-December, but only told one other
person at the time, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who he hoped would be
Yeltsin described the torment of keeping his plan to himself, the worry that
someone would guess, the yearning to discuss it with somebody.
``But I can't. If the information leaks - the whole effect will be lost,''
Yeltsin wrote. ``All the moral, human, political meaning of this gesture will
be lost. The energy of this decision will be lost.''
Yeltsin said his decision to step down was not prompted by his ill health or
pressure from aides or family - but that it was time for a new president to
take over in Russia.
His decision to depart came shortly after a new, pro-Putin party did
surprisingly well in parliamentary elections, suggesting the prime minister
could win the presidency, especially if elections were brought forward from
Yeltsin wrote that he had decided not to step down if word of his resignation
plans leaked, destroying the bombshell effect of the announcement. He said he
disclosed his plan to his daughter and image adviser, Tatyana, only a few
days before the public announcement, and to his wife Naina just hours before
the rest of the nation was to find out.
``I stood in the hallway, not knowing what to do. I slowly buttoned up my
coat,'' Yeltsin wrote.
'``Naina, I have made a decision. I am resigning. There will be my television
address. Watch TV,''' Yeltsin said he told his wife.
His wife and daughter reacted first with disbelief and shocked silence, but
that quickly turned to joy, Yeltsin wrote.
Yeltsin told of arriving in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, receiving the usual piles
of paperwork from aides - and then, after the aides left, pulling out of his
pocket a crumpled sheet of paper with his own plan for the day.
He described a silence, punctuated only by the ticking of a clock in his
Kremlin office, after he had read his resignation speech - and the sudden
burst of applause and cheering from aides and a television crew. He then
signed his resignation letter and transferred control over Russia's nuclear
forces to Putin.
``From now on, somebody else is responsible for the nuclear button. Maybe it
will be easier to beat insomnia now?,'' Yeltsin wrote.
ORT's Vremya Is Most Trusted Russian News Program, Poll Shows
Moscow, Oct. 4 <(Bloomberg)
-- Vremya, the nightly news broadcast on ORT Public Television, the
state-controlled company running Russia's largest TV network, is more trusted
than any other news program, according to an opinion poll published today..
The poll carried out on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 by Russia's Public Opinion
Foundation, an independent survey group that also does political polls,
showed 30 percent of the population trusts Vremya, while 25 percent trust
Vesti, the nightly news broadcast on RTR, Russia's No. 2 state-controlled
network. Itogi, a weekly news analysis program run on Sunday nights by NTV,
the country's biggest private TV station, was trusted by 16 percent of
respondents. The poll carries a 3.6 percent margin of error.
ORT and RTR reach more than 95 percent of Russian homes, while NTV's signal
is received by about 75 percent, according to Renaissance Capital.
The results of the poll, which surveyed 2,000 people in 29 of Russia's 89
regions, follow, with the relevant television station in brackets.
Name any Russian television news broadcast that you trust:
Vremya (ORT) 30%
Vesti (RTR) 25%
Itogi (NTV) 16%
Sergei Dorenko's Program (ORT) 15%
Novosti (ORT) 15%
Segodnya (NTV) 10%
Vzglyad (ORT) 9%
Zerkalo (RTR) 7%
Odnako (ORT) 6%
Sovershenno Sekretno (NTV) 5%
(10/4 Public Opinion Foundation, www.fom.ru)
October 4, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
RUSSIA GETS BOGGED DOWN IN YET ANOTHER CAUCASIAN WAR
A year after the beginning of the second Chechen campaign
it has become clear that the victory in battles did not bring
political success nearer
By Mikhail KHODARENOK
The second Chechen campaign, which started a year ago
(just like the first one, though) came as a surprise for the
As is usually the case in Russia, by the moment of
receiving the combat mission from the country's political
leaders, the defense department had neither plan of waging
warfare nor respective operative calculations. It is known that
until the last moment the military had two plans, which had
been hastily drawn up: the first - to advance to the Terek and
spend winter on the river-line. The second - to advance to the
mountains and bring the military campaign to the victorious
In these conditions, the formations and units which were
deployed shortly before that and kept on the alert played the
greatest role in the success of the campaign. They formed the
backbone of the group of federal forces. However, the
leadership of the defense department, concerned, as usual,
about global problems, missed many issues of waging warfare in
the conditions of a specific theater of war. In particular,
despite the fact that from the very beginning it was planned to
conduct combat actions in the mountains, there was not a single
trained and fully equipped with requisite materiel unit
designed for these purposes in the group of federal forces.
The second campaign has proved yet another ill tradition:
instead of full-fledged and fully equipped units and
formations, this time, too, improvised combined units of
districts and fleets were dispatched to the front. Regrettably,
one has to state that the three years following the Khasavyurt
agreements have not been used in full measure for the
preparation of the next round of armed confrontation in the
Caucasus. Even a minor war with separatists and rebels in the
Caucasus demanded the straining of the practically entire
worn-out military machine of the state.
This notwithstanding, Russian troops have fulfilled the
combat missions set to them - mainly, at the expense of
enthusiasm and exploitation of "the human factor," as usual.
Major armed formations of separatists were eliminated and
scattered, cities and villages were taken by assault (some of
them several times over). The war has entered the guerrilla and
mine stage, when the enemy is everywhere and, at the same time,
difficult to catch.
What next? In the estimates of informed sources, within
the next few months, the activity of minor Chechen units will
probably remain high. The raids by relatively small and
well-equipped groups of rebels, which have become practically
daily, show that the actions of Russian troops are so far not
very efficient. The mine war, large-scale as it is, is mounting.
Moreover, according to some data, separatists are capable of
building up their forces. Such rumors about forthcoming
military actions by illegal Chechen formations keep appearing
for unexplainable reasons. However, it is a commonly known fact
that small Chechen units are highly mobile and can find
themselves in Grozny or outside Chechnya within a matter of
At present, the actions of federal forces still have not
yet yielded the results desired by Moscow. Rebels' morale has
not been broken down, nor has their will for resistance been
The leaders, ideologists and a considerable part of commanders
of armed formations survived in previous battles. The channels
of financing, reinforcement, as well as ammunition and
medicines supplies have not been blocked. This is why the
millstones of the second Chechen campaign keep methodically
grinding the personnel, combat technology and material
resources of federal forces.
Russia is getting bogged down in yet another Caucasian war.
Meanwhile, history knows of no cases where waging warfare for a
long time would be advantageous for the state. It is becoming
obvious that a new series of fresh military-political solutions
is needed that would raise the situation in Chechnya onto a
qualitatively new level.
Putin in Power
By Michael McFaul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Michael McFaul is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace and an assistant professor of political science and
Hoover fellow at Stanford University. His latest book, Russia's Troubled
Transition from Communism to Democracy, will be published in the summer of
When Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin prime minister in August 1999,
few were impressed. An obscure bureaucrat recently recruited from St.
Petersburg, with no electoral experience and few political allies, most
analysts reasoned that Putin was a caretaker head of government who would
not last much longer than the previous three prime ministers.
Almost everyone underestimated Putin. In one year he catapulted from the
head of the Federal Security Service or FSB (the domestic successor to the
KGB) to prime minister, to acting president, to an elected president who
won the March 2000 presidential election on the first ballot.1 As prime
minister and acting president, Putin aggressively pursued a single policy:
the prosecution of the second Chechen war. Since becoming the elected
president of Russia, however, Putin has demonstrated a similar degree of
vigor in virtually every policy area.
In the realm of foreign policy, Putin already has achieved some goals,
floated several intriguing new ideas, and maintained a busy travel
schedule. He pushed through the Russian parliament ratification of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the second Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty (START II), which had languished in the Duma for seven years. As for
new ideas, Putin has articulated a clear desire for Russia to become a
fully integrated member of Europe and the Group of Eight Western industrial
democracies (in which Russia is a political but not financial member). His
new foreign policy doctrine, unveiled over the summer, states that he and
his government plan to follow a rational and realistic foreign policy that
will serve Russian economic and political interests. Such a strategy
includes active engagement with the West. His foreign policy doctrine
further stresses that "Russia shall actively work to attract foreign
investments," and will strive "to ensure favorable external conditions for
forming a market-oriented economy in our country." He has emphasized that
he sees Russia as a European country that shares many interests with other
At the same time, Putin has made clear that Russia will not allow the West
to dictate the terms of this engagement. His counterproposals regarding
missile defenses have won praise in Europe and China and put the United
States on the defensive. His controversial but intriguing visits to North
Korea and Libya-where Putin perhaps hopes to serve as a mediator between
these "rogue states" and the Western world-as well as successful trips to
England, Spain, Germany, Japan, and China-signal that Putin wants to
reassert Russia's role as a major international player.
Putin's economic actions also have been bold. He selected a known face
from the Yeltsin era, Mikhail Kasyanov, to head his first government. A
former finance minister who was responsible for negotiating a major
debt-restructuring agreement with the West, Kasyanov came to the job with
promarket credentials. Other Putin appointees on the economic
team-including the new first deputy prime minister and finance minister,
Aleksei Kudrin; the new minister for economic development and trade, German
Gref; and the president's personal adviser on economic affairs, Andrei
Illarionov-are considered radical promarket reformers. This new team came
to power with a comprehensive reform program that included major new
proposals for tax reform, land privatization, deregulation, social policy
restructuring, and new bankruptcy procedures. In the first three months of
work with the Duma, Putin already achieved victory on one of the most
important pillars of this reform agenda, a new tax code that decreases the
income tax on individuals and corporations to a flat 13 percent.
Putin's multitude of initiatives regarding foreign policy and economic
reform notwithstanding, his boldest changes have been in the political
arena. During his short tenure in office, Putin has attempted to weaken
every major source of independent political power in the Russian political
system originally erected by Yeltsin. For the most part, he has succeeded;
the balance of power within this regime has changed radically in his favor.
In the Yeltsin era, the Duma, the Federation Council (the upper house of
parliament), the media, the oligarchs, and the regional leaders all acted
as checks on presidential power. Today, every one of these independent
sources of power is weaker than it was a year ago. Yeltsin's military
campaign against Chechnya in 1994-1996 exposed the weakness of the Russian
military and threatened to undermine Russia's territorial integrity in the
Caucasus; Putin managed to reverse, at least temporarily, this challenge to
the Kremlin's power. Throughout this period, Putin has maintained a solid
popular majority. In August of this year, 70 percent of the Russian
population gave Putin a positive job-approval rating, a level of support
not enjoyed by Yeltsin since the fall of 1991 (Yeltsin's approval rating in
the last years of his presidency hovered in the low teens and single
digits). Soviet and Russian leaders customarily devoted their initial time
in office to consolidating political power; Putin must rank with Stalin and
Gorbachev as one of the century's most successful and speediest
consolidators of power.
How did Putin achieve so much so fast? What do these changes mean for the
future of Russian democracy? Although it is still too early to assess the
real consequences of these political changes or the intent of Putin's
actions, the comprehensive nature of political change and the manner in
which it has been pursued offer some clues to the future of Russian
politics. In the long run, the commitment of the Russian people to become a
European country integrated into the community of democratic and
market-oriented states will compel Russia's leaders to adhere to some basic
principles of democracy. The path to this long-run outcome, however, may
include some authoritarian detours, including the road that Putin has
hinted that he intends to follow.
MUSCLE BUILDING IN CHECHNYA
Putin has consistently promoted the necessity of reconstituting a stronger
Russian state, a policy objective that he values above all others.
Consequently, in response to an invasion by rebels from the Russian
republic of Chechnya into the neighboring republic of Dagestan in the
summer of 1999 and terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia that
killed hundreds of civilians last fall, Prime Minister Putin deployed
massive military force against the Chechen fighters in Chechnya.2 At the
time, President Yeltsin was still the commander in chief, but Prime
Minister Putin assumed primary responsibility for the new military
campaign. Emboldened by some early battlefield successes, Yeltsin and Putin
expanded the initial objectives of this second invasion to include complete
military subjugation of the breakaway Chechen republic. Putin abandoned the
old strategy of negotiation with Chechen leaders and indifference to
developments within Chechen territory.
To the surprise of many, Putin's new strategy for dealing with Chechnya
won popular and elite support and eventually propelled Putin to the
presidency the following year. At the beginning the campaign, no one
believed that a quick little war with the Chechens would be the formula for
delivering electoral success in the presidential campaign. On the contrary,
when Yeltsin ordered the Russian military to respond to the Chechen
incursion in August 1999, most electoral analysts in Russia thought that
the counteroffensive would result in another unpopular military debacle
similar to the first Chechen war. The circumstances of this new military
campaign, however, were different.
First and foremost, Russians citizens understood the new war to be a
defensive action taken against an invading military force. Chechen military
commander Shamil Basayev stated explicitly that his armed forces had
entered Dagestan to liberate it from Russian imperialism. This was a direct
threat to Russian national security and the first time since 1941 that a
"foreign" army had invaded Russia. The terrorist attacks on apartment
buildings in Moscow and elsewhere shortly after the invasion left the
nation feeling besieged. The Russian people demanded a response from their
leaders, and Putin responded.
Second, the military action appeared to be a success. In the first Chechen
war, the Russian forces seemed to be losing the war from the outset-both
because they performed so miserably, and because the rationale for the war
was not embraced by either the Russian army or the population as a whole.
Independent media, led by the national television network NTV, reported on
military setbacks and questioned Russia's war aims.
In the second Chechen war, the Russian army used different tactics,
relying on air power much more than in the first war (a change in tactics
that resulted in the complete demolition of the Chechen capital of
Groz-ny). Media coverage of the second war also changed, with most
reporting much more supportive of the Russian armed forces. The Russian
state also exercised a greater degree of control over media coverage of
this war, including imposing strict limits on media access to areas of the
conflict; it has learned the value of conducting its own propaganda war on
the airwaves to help sustain the military offensive on the ground.
Thus, the second Chechen war has enjoyed considerable popularity in
Russia. During the 2000 presidential campaign, public support for the war
remained steady at roughly 60 percent. This support, in turn, translated
into positive approval ratings for Putin. Opinion polls conducted in the
fall of 1999 demonstrated that people were grateful to Putin for accepting
responsibility for the security of the Russian people. He looked like a
leader who had taken charge during an uncertain insecure time and had
delivered on his promise to provide stability and security. By the end of
1999, he enjoyed an astonishing 72 percent approval rating, which he
maintained throughout the presidential campaign. Without question, Putin's
execution of the war in Chechnya was a crucial ingredient (though not the
only one) to his electoral success this March.
In the long term, the war may also help strengthen the power and prestige
of the Russian state. The Russian Federation's dissolution, while always a
remote possibility, now seems even less likely and potential defectors have
become less vocal in their criticism of Russian central authorities. If the
Russian military eventually prevails-Russian armed forces occupy most of
the territory, but they are still engaged in a guerrilla war-the military's
prestige also might be restored, a development that in turn might serve to
strengthen the Russian state. Yet, the benefits to Putin personally and to
the Russian state potentially have come at a high cost to Russian
democracy. Russia has a right and Putin an obligation to defend Russia's
territorial integrity. However, the means deployed have grossly violated
the human rights of Chechnya's people, who after all are Russian citizens.
Testimony gathered by Russian and international human rights groups points
to systematic and indiscriminate use of force against both civilians and
those who care for the wounded. Evidence suggests that Russia may even be
in violation of the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. This record reveals the low priority Putin has assigned to
SUBDUING THE DUMA
If demonstrating Moscow's resolve against Chechnya was Putin's first act
of enhancing the Kremlin's power and breaking with past political practices
of the Yeltsin era, Putin's second target was the lower house of
parliament, the State Duma. In seeking to weaken this center of opposition
to the Kremlin, Putin's tactics, although more democratic, still jeopardize
long-term democratic consolidation.
Since the first postcommunist Duma election in December 1993, political
groups that opposed Yeltsin and the Kremlin have dominated this legislative
body. The 1995 parliamentary election especially, which gave the Communist
Party of the Russian Federation control of the legislature, positioned the
Duma to act as a check on executive power. Yet constitutionally, the Duma
is a weak institution, with only limited authority to block presidential
activity. Toward the end of the last decade, however, the
Communist-dominated Duma exercised these powers to their fullest extent.
The Communists achieved their greatest victory in the wake of the August
1998 financial crisis, forcing President Yeltsin to accept their candidate,
Yevgeny Primakov, for prime minister.
In the fall of 1999, Putin and his allies wanted to change the dynamics of
the relationship between the president and the Duma by making the
parliament more loyal to the Kremlin. They pursued this objective through
the electoral process. In the run-up to the December 1999 parliamentary
elections, the Kremlin created a new party, Unity, that was completely
dependent on the Kremlin for financial resources, access to television
exposure, organizational muscle, and campaign expertise. In an amazing
reinvention, Unity became the new "party of power" by disassociating and
even criticizing the old party of power. Unity accomplished this
transformation by selecting a new, young, popular, and apolitical party
leader, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, who then firmly identified
himself and his party with Putin and Putin's one distinctive policy, the
war in Chechnya.
This strategy helped attract to Unity the nonideological and nonpartisan
voter, who in earlier elections had not identified firmly with a specific
political par-ty. A hard-hitting negative television assault conducted by
the two national television stations controlled by the Kremlin (ORT and
RTR) against the Fatherland-All Russia coalition-Unity's chief competitor
for the nonideological voter-further assisted Unity's electoral prospects.
Unity's electoral performance was impressive; a party that did not exist
just weeks before the election won an amazing 23 percent of the popular
vote on the party list vote, capturing just one percentage point less than
the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
The Kremlin's Unity bloc soundly defeated Fatherland-All Russia, the
electoral bloc headed by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov-who had
been dismissed by Yeltsin in May 1999-and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
Instead, Fatherland-All Russia won only 12 percent of the popular vote,
which led Primakov to withdraw from the presidential race.
In addition to Unity's rise and Fatherland's demise, Putin benefited from
the surprising performance of the liberal bloc, the Union of Right Forces
(SPS). Late in the campaign, Putin endorsed this coalition of small,
liberal, right-wing parties headed by former Prime Minister Sergei
Kiriyenko. Although most electoral experts predicted that SPS would fail to
cross the 5 percent threshold necessary to obtain seats through the party
list vote, the coalition won almost 9 percent of the popular vote and
soundly defeated the other main liberal party and chief Kremlin critic on
the ballot, Yabloko. Since the election, the SPS faction in the Duma has
given only lukewarm support for several of Putin's political initiatives,
but has nonetheless endorsed unequivocally his legislative initiatives
concerning economic policy.
When the distribution of seats from single-mandated races are added into
the equation (these constitute half the seats in the 450-member
parliament), the balance of power within the Duma has moved in a decisively
pro-Putin direction. The Communist Party still controls a solid minority of
seats, but cannot construct opposition majorities to Kremlin initiatives.
Putin has further weakened the Communist opposition by courting individual
leaders in an attempt to divide the party. The current speaker of the Duma,
Communist Party member Gennady Seleznyov, is more loyal to Putin than to
his party's leader, Gennady Zyuganov (when Seleznyov ran for governor for
Moscow Oblast in December 1999, Putin endorsed his candidacy in the second
round when he faced an opponent from Fatherland-All Russia. Seleznyov,
however, lost this election). Tension between Seleznyov and Zyuganov grew
so considerable in the spring and summer of this year that Seleznyov took
the initial steps-with the Kremlin's backing-of forming a new
left-of-center organization called Rossiya.
The combination of a loyal Unity, a divided and weakened Communist Party,
a sometimes supportive SPS, and strong backing from independents and other
smaller factions has produced a parliament supportive of Putin on major
issues. This parliament approved Mikhail Kasyanov, Putin's candidate for
prime minister, without a fight, has ratified all his major economic reform
bills, and has supported in overwhelming majorities his reform initiatives
regarding relations between Moscow and the regions. Yet Putin and his
advisers did not stop there. This fall, Putin plans to announce a major set
of reforms for the reorganization of the Duma. A central component of this
reform package is a proposal to amend the Duma electoral law.
Putin's objective of rendering the Duma more supportive of his presidency
is one any executive in any democracy would desire. That this
redistribution of power took place through the ballot box rather than
through armed conflict also must be commended. At the same time, the means
deployed to achieve this end could be damaging to the democratic
consolidation over the long run. The Kremlin helped produce the new balance
of power within the Duma by deploying the massive resources of the Russian
federal state to support its parties and undermine its enemies. Unity,
moreover, was more of a virtual party than an organization with established
policy positions, regional organizations, or a well-defined electorate. The
state, not the people, created this electoral bloc: Unity boasted no
history, no platform, and no membership, yet captured almost a quarter of
the popular vote. The sudden success of an organization like Unity
undermines the formation of a real multiparty system in Russia. Putin's
recent proposals for amending the Duma electoral law to decrease the number
of seats allocated according to proportional representation and increase
the minimal threshold needed to win seats on the party list will further
weaken independent political parties. Instead of a multiparty system,
Russia could be gravitating toward a one-and-a-half party system: one loyal
to the Kremlin that always wins, and the other-a remade Communist Party-in
slight opposition to the Kremlin that always loses.
WEAKENING THE FEDERATION COUNCIL
Putin's ability to assemble supermajorities in the Duma-that is,
majorities capable of overriding vetoes of Federation Council bills-gave
him the ability to alter the very organization of the national system of
government. And reorganize he did. To the surprise of everyone, Putin made
reform of the Federation Council one of his top political goals in his
first months in office. The Russian constitution states that two deputies
from each region of the Russian Federation shall be members of the
Federation Council: one from the representatives and one from the executive
bodies of state authority. The constitution does not specify how these
representatives should be selected.
In the first term of the Federation Council (1993-1995), council members
were directly elected. After the 1993 elections, however, regional leaders
succeeded in changing the law governing the formation of the Federation
Council. Rather than direct elections to the Federation Council, regional
executives (presidents in republics and governors in the administrative
units called oblasts and krais) and heads of regional legislative
parliaments pushed for direct elections for their regional offices,
followed by automatic appointment to this national body. This gave
governors increased local legitimacy and greater autonomy from Yeltsin and
Moscow since elected governors would be harder to dismiss than appointed
ones. It also gave governors a direct voice in the national legislative
affairs, blurring the divisions both between executive and legislative
power and between the national and subnational units of the federal system.
Under this configuration, the Federation Council rarely opposed Yeltsin
directly but did emerge as a powerful lobby for regional interests.
Soon after coming to office, Putin proposed a third formula on Federation
Council appointments. Instead of direct elections or personal
representation of regions by governors and legislative heads, Putin's plan
called for the appointment of two representatives from each region to the
Council.3 Federation Council members resisted this reform, knowing that
they would lose their Moscow apartments and offices, their immunity as
members of the national parliament, and their influence in the corridors of
power of the Russian government. After a fierce battle in which the Duma
threatened to override a Federation Council veto and Kremlin officials
allegedly threatened governors with criminal investigations if they did not
support Putin's plan, the Federation Council ratified the new formulation
at the end of July 2000.
This change, scheduled to go into effect in 2002, weakens another
institutional check on the president's power. Because the new members of
the council will not be elected, they will not have the same political
authority or public standing as current council members. The new formula
also will make it more difficult for regional leaders to coordinate their
actions with the federal government. Moreover, some have speculated that
this new formation of the council is an interim step toward Putin's
ultimate goal of abolishing the upper house altogether (as a concession to
Russia's most powerful regional leaders, Putin has vowed to create a
so-called State Council, on which leading figures from all of Russia's
political institutions would serve).
It is too early to tell how this reform will influence democratic
consolidation in Russia. Respected proponents of liberal democracy in
Russia, including former Duma deputy and constitutional expert Viktor
Sheinis, have long argued that the Federation Council must be reorganized;
governors' service in the national legislature violates both the principle
of separation of power between executives and legislators, and separation
between federal and regional power. In addition, the old formulation is
highly inefficient-regional leaders have major local responsibilities and
therefore can devote only small amounts of time for travel to Moscow to
attend to legislative matters. The new members of the Federation Council
will be permanent legislators, who could organize themselves to be a more
professional and engaged body. Still, this new formulation gives
considerable powers-including some powers such as the ratification of
several federal appointments on which only the Federation Council votes-to
nonelected officials. Over time, this lack of legitimacy could undermine
the council's ability to make independent decisions.
EXPANDING MOSCOW'S REACH
Putin's assault against regional executives has not been confined to
reconfiguring the Federation Council; he also has introduced other reforms
and laws designed to rein in the power of the regional barons in their own
territories. In one of his first acts as president, Putin created seven new
supra-regional districts, each to be administered by a supragovernor
personally appointed by the president. Though only in its early phases of
development, the creation of new federal representatives outside Moscow
will establish a more authoritative federal presence throughout Russia,
which in turn may assist in the enforcement of federal laws in all regions.
These new supraregional authorities also will have direct authority over
all federal employees working in the regions, including tax inspectors,
treasury employees, and regional divisions of prosecutor general's office,
the FSB, and the Ministry of the Interior. During the Yeltsin years, these
federal employees became increasingly dependent on local governors. Putin
hopes to recapture their allegiance to the federal government through the
creation of these new plenipotentiaries. If they work in unison, these
federal branches will constitute a powerful set of levers for enforcing
Moscow's will on regional government officials. Strikingly, five of seven
new supraregional representatives have professional experience in the FSB,
the military, or the police; only two are civilians.
Even before these new territorial authorities opened for business, federal
officials had already initiated criminal investigations against allegedly
corrupt officials working within regional executive branches. Another new
reform, proposed by Putin and passed into law in July 2000, now gives the
president the power to remove from office elected governors accused of
wrongdoing by the prosecutor general's office. Formally, the president can
only remove these governors temporarily until criminal charges have been
resolved. Given that criminal proceedings could drag out indefinitely
(especially if the president recommended that they be dragged out
indefinitely), this new law informally gives the president the ability to
remove elected officials from office at will. He also can dismiss regional
legislatures if they pass legislation that violates federal laws or the
constitution. Another law passed in July gives the president the power to
remove mayors in cities of 50,000 or more inhabitants.
On paper, these reforms-which also include the transfer of a greater
percentage of regional tax revenues to Moscow-constitute a radical
redistribution of power in favor of the Kremlin. Some previously dissident
regions have already responded to the new regime: Bashkortostan, a republic
that had stopped paying taxes to the federal government, began to make
transfers to Moscow anew-which is exactly the kind of response Putin wants.
Whether the package of changes will produce a more rational and predictable
relationship between the center and the regions remains to be seen. While
most agree that the center has been too weak over the last several years,
the resurrection of a unitary centralized state has the potential to
reverse the positive elements of decentralization and to prevent further
development of Russia's young federalism.
THREATS TO THE PRESS AND CIVIL SOCIETY
Taking on both houses of parliament as well as Russia's powerful regional
barons simultaneously represented an amazingly ambitious agenda for
President Putin's first three months in office. Yet throughout the spring
he also moved aggressively against another source of independent power: the
free press. In several respects, an independent, critical, and pluralistic
press was one of the greatest democratic achievements of the Yeltsin years.
In the early years of the last decade, several independent newspapers, such
as Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kommersant, and Segodnya, sprouted, putting
pressure on traditional print publications to become more critical as well.
While the government still has a controlling stake in two of the largest
national television channels, ORT and RTR (the state holds a majority share
in ORT and still owns 100 percent of RTR), the first private national
television network, NTV, formed and thrived under Yeltsin. Started by
Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV provided a truly independent source of information
that reached beyond Moscow and was not afraid to criticize Yeltsin and his
But the independent media has become less independent. Russia's oligarchs
have captured control of most major media sources, while the state
continues to be the largest owner of all. Competition among Russian
national television networks effectively ended during the 1996 presidential
election when NTV joined forces with ORT and RTR to back Yeltsin. But when
NTV attempted to criticize the state again during the second Chechen war
and the 1999 parliamentary elections, the network came under vigorous
attack from the Kremlin. The harassment continued this year, when NTV
offices were raided and Gusinsky was arrested allegedly for a corrupt
privatization deal he orchestrated several years ago. Gusinsky was later
released and even allowed to leave the country, but many speculate the
price he paid for his freedom may be the surrender of his media empire,
Media-Most (which also includes a daily newspaper, a national radio
station, and a weekly magazine), to the gas company Gazprom. A major
stockholder in NTV already, Gazprom is still closely tied to the state; the
federal government remains the majority owner. The Kremlin also has
launched a major campaign to wrestle control of ORT away from Boris
Berezovsky, a minority shareholder in the television station who has
nonetheless dominated its programming for years.
Individual journalists, academic researchers, and civic leaders critical
of the state also have felt the Putin regime's wrath. Commentators and
columnists critical of Putin report that many newspapers are unwilling now
to carry their articles. Self-censorship has returned to Russia. At a
minimum, many in Russia argue that it is harder to be a social or political
activist today than at any time in the post-Soviet period. Many in the
Russian NGO community believe that Putin is hostile to criticism and
competition. The Russian government has gone on record claiming that the
protection of human rights is the business of the state and not independent
groups. Accordingly, the state has refused to register many human rights
groups, leaving them legally vulnerable to being shut down. Environmental
NGOs also have come under increased harrassment from the FSB following an
interview in a Russian newspaper with Putin in July 1999 in which he
claimed, but provided no evidence, that these groups were in the employ of
foreign intelligence agencies.
If Putin's plans with respect to the parliament and center-regional
relations might produce eventually some redeeming reforms-perhaps even
democratic reforms-these threats to the press and civil society more
generally cannot be considered in any way positive for democratic
consolidation in Russia. Putin remarked in his state of the union address
on July 8, 2000 that "free speech has been and will remain an inviolable
value of Russian demo-cracy. This is a position of principle for us." The
actions of his government have not, however, been in keeping with this
"position of principle."
SCARING THE OLIGARCHS
With relatively cost-free victories already recorded against the
parliament, the regional barons, and the press, Putin began to assault
another source of independent power-the oligarchs-in the summer of 2000.
Gusinsky's arrest was seen as a direct attack against independent media.
When Putin's government opened charges and threatened criminal
investigations against several other tycoons, the aims were more ambiguous.
Putin's government has threatened to arrest Interros holding company head
(the owner of the giant Norilsk Nickel plant) Vladimir Potanin, and has
announced the opening of criminal investigations against LUKoil, Russia's
largest oil company, and AvtoVAS, Russia's largest car producer, while
others were put on notice that they would be investigated next. Most
unexpectedly, these attacks prompted business tycoon Boris Berezovsky to
break ranks with Putin-the same Berezovsky who was one of the original
forces behind Putin's rise to power. Putin eventually convened a summit
between the Kremlin and the oligarchs in late July as a gesture to diffuse
the confrontation. Still, few believe that the meeting signaled a permanent
reconciliation or an end to the attacks on the oligarchs.
In principle, these state actions against some of Russia's richest
businessmen might be interpreted as progress. Oligarchic capitalism in
Russian needs to end; the rule of law needs to begin. But the discriminate
process regarding who is and is not prosecuted has undermined the integrity
of these acts. Gusinsky's media outlets have criticized Putin and supported
his opponents. Gusinsky was arrested. Roman Abramovich-one of Russia's most
notorious oligarchs, not likely more law abiding than Russia's other
business leaders-has supported Putin, and has avoided arrest or
investigation. In fact, many of the investigations launched have been
against Abramovich rivals, prompting some to conclude that the antioligarch
campaign is designed to redistribute privilege and wealth again, and not to
establish the rule of law equally applicable to all.4
THE FUTURE OF RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY
Putin has accomplished more in three months as president than most world
leaders could hope to achieve during their entire tenure in office. In
making bold changes in the organization of the Russian political system,
Putin has made real progress toward consolidating his own political power
in Russia. In the process, he also may have taken steps toward
strengthening executive power and state power more generally. During the
Yeltsin years, it became fashionable in the West to cite Russia's weak
state as the source of Russia's ills. Putin has demonstrated after only a
few months in office that the Russian federal state still has tremendous
power-perhaps too much power-if the man in control of that state is
vigorous, ambitious, and popular.
At the same time, Putin's political reforms have illuminated how weak
societal checks on state power remain in Russia. Russia today has no
effective political opposition. Political parties are weak, economic elites
appear seemingly unwilling to challenge the power of the president, and
regional leaders are on the defensive. Yet the people still firmly support
Putin and his reforms. Alternative sources of power may reorganize,
especially if an economic crisis or an expansion of the war in the Caucasus
erodes Putin's popularity, but these events are unlikely in the near future.
The real question is to what purpose Putin will deploy his newly
consolidated political power. Will he build a strong democratic state that
will create the necessary conditions for economic growth? Or does Putin
hope to use a strong authoritarian state to implement market reforms but at
the expense of democracy? Or will he use his power to simply resurrect a
police state in Russia whose main aim will be keep Putin in office?
A year after his rise to power, compelling evidence can be found to
support all these claims about Putin's strategy. While many already have
proclaimed Putin to be a dictator, the evidence to support this remains
circumstantial. Yet Putin also has proved indifferent to democracy. No one
in Russia or the West who fought to destroy Soviet communism can celebrate
the election of a former KGB agent to the presidency. Putin has matched his
reputation as a strong man with some highly anti-democratic deeds. No
excuse can be made for the harassment of the press or civic leaders. Putin
may not openly aspire to become a dictator, yet he has displayed no passion
for defending democracy. Instead, Putin has demonstrated that he is willing
to use the power of the state and ignore the democratic rights of society
in the pursuit of "more important" objectives, such as state building and
To date, the pursuit of these allegedly more important objectives has only
slightly collided with Russia's fragile democratic institutions. While his
government has harassed journalists and weakened important democratic
institutions, Putin has not suspended the constitution, postponed
elections, or implemented emergency rule. And he was, it should be
remembered, elected by the Russian people in a relatively free and fair
election. He will continue to allow an independent press, elections, and
individual liberties as long as they do not conflict with his agenda of
securing Russia's borders, strengthening the Russian state, and promoting
Tragically, 10 years after the Soviet Union's collapse, the whims of one
man at the top still can profoundly influence the fate of the whole Russian
regime. Russia's protracted transition from Communist rule is not over; and
the endpoint of this transformation remains uncertain.
1Russia has a two-ballot system for the office of the president. If no
candidate wins a majority in the first round, then the top two vote winners
compete in a second round. Putin avoided a second round by capturing 52.9
percent of the popular vote in the first round. By contrast, Yeltsin won
only 35.3 percent in the first round of the 1996 presidential election and
therefore needed a second-round win for a majority.
2Who was responsible for these bombings still remains unclear. Likewise,
the executors of another terrorist attack that killed several people and
wounded many others in downtown Moscow this August have not been determined.
3The formula for selecting these representatives is complex. One
Federation Council representative is selected by the regional speaker of
the regional assembly and confirmed by the assembly as a whole. The
regional executive selects the second Federation Council representative.
The regional assembly can veto the governor's nominee with a two-thirds
majority. Representatives serve at the pleasure of those who select them.
4Few believed that Putin would alter fundamentally the political system
erected by Yeltsin over the last decade, a system dominated by financial
oligarchs, regional barons, and Kremlin insiders close to the president
often called the "Family." Yeltsin, in fact, selected Putin because he
believed him to be a defender of the status quo. In pardoning Yeltsin in
his first move as acting president, Putin cast himself as a loyal servant
who would not rock the boat. Not surprisingly, most of the oligarchs,
regional barons, and Family members supported Putin enthusiastically during
the spring presidential campaign.