This Date's Issues: 4579 ē
Johnson's Russia List
15 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
DJ: Another Sunday question: Do you find bias or one-sidedness
in JRL? Is there a problem?
1. Washington Post: Robert Kaiser, Waiting for the True Putin to
2. The Observer (UK): Cries from Putin's torture pit. John Sweeney
reports on the horror of a Russian prison camp in Chechnya.
3. Washington Post Book World: Richard Lourie, Who Stole Russia?
(Reviews Cohen, Klebnikov, and Freeland)
4. The Russia Journal: Andrei Pionkovsky, Misha-2%ís lesson for
5. Boston Globe: David Filipov and Anna Badkhen, Iron Curtain
lingers at Belarus polls.
6. The Electric Telegraph (UK): Guy Chazan, Putin favours restoring
Soviet national anthem.
7. The Russia Journal: Alexander Golts, Trend could hatch dozens
October 15, 2000
[for personal use only]
A LOOK AT . . . Russia's Enigmatic President
Waiting for the True Putin to Emerge
By Robert G. Kaiser
Robert Kaiser, The Post's Moscow correspondent from 1971 to 1974 and the
author of three books on Russia, is an associate editor of The Post.
MOSCOW- Vladimir Putin has been the president of Russia for five months,
and most Russians are simply delighted with him. They like him even though he
rarely has anything to say to his fellow Russians, directly or through the
news media. They like him despite his evident failures--a bloody,
unsuccessful war in Chechnya, his ham-handed reaction to the sinking of the
submarine Kursk, his clumsy effort last month to help Slobodan Milosevic of
Serbia survive an electoral defeat. According to opinion polls, he enjoys
approval ratings of about 65 percent--remarkably, about 63 percentage points
higher than Boris Yeltsin's rating when he picked Putin as his successor.
Putin's popularity is one revealing fact about his young presidency. Another
is that he has steadily accumulated personal authority while undermining
nearly every alternative center of power in Russian society, from the
once-independent regional governors to the State Duma, or lower house of
parliament, to the mass media--all the time insisting he believes in
democracy and freedom of the press. Some politicians and intellectuals here
think he has dictatorial ambitions.
He's also a president who has done nothing to confront his country's biggest
problem: the corruption that plagues nearly every aspect of Russian society.
Though he has harassed two of the business moguls, or oligarchs, who dominate
the Russian economy, he remains close to others and has not altered the
system of special access to power for the richest and most corrupt that
allows such oligarchs to thrive.
All these descriptions are accurate, which probably explains why a visitor
can scour the community of politically engaged Muscovites and not discover
any substantial agreement about what Putin plans to do as president. Nor is
there a consensus on whether he is a threat to Russians' freedoms, or whether
he believes in democracy for his country.
"Putin is a great nothing," said Alexander Timofeyevsky, a Moscow journalist
who isn't too worried about the new president. "No one in Russia can say they
know him well," said Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, a young independent Duma member
from Siberia. "He's a closed-off president." Added Andrei Melville, deputy
rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations: "There's a
process of self-creation going on."
Of course, in creating himself Putin also is creating the next phase of
Russia's transformation, which is why he is important not only to the
Russians who are so fond of him, but to the rest of the world as well. If
Putin's new bond with the Russian nation can survive, he would become the
first Russian leader since the fall of communism 10 years ago to enjoy a
popular mandate. For a country adrift on the hostile tides of uncontrollable
history, such a mandate could be a powerful force. But a mandate for what?
Russia has long been a vast hall of mirrors, where what is true and what is
false, what is real and what is imaginary can merge and coexist, defying the
laws of intellectual gravity. In Putin's Russia, hopes for and fears of the
president overwhelm, for now, the few clues about his intentions. So the
Russians who care about such matters (a small minority of the country, but a
lively slice of this capital's population) are pondering, debating and
waiting. In the land of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, these members of
Russia's intelligentsia are mimicking Irish playwright Samuel Beckett: They
are Waiting for Putin, the real Putin, to show up. Of course, in Beckett's
classic play "Waiting for Godot," Godot never does appear, and the audience
is left wondering if he really exists. There's no question about Putin's
existence, but every reason to wonder when he will show his hand--and what
will be in it when he does.
The new president is not easily pigeonholed. He has shown some creativity and
curiosity in his foreign policy and in dealings with his countrymen, but he
has shown some fatalism, too. Evgeny P. Velikhov, director of the Kurchatov
Institute of physics and the hero of the response to the Chernobyl disaster,
described a meeting Putin organized this summer with 20 prominent scientists.
The meeting lasted six hours. "We had a real discussion," Velikhov said. "He
knows the real situation in the country quite well." The scientists pleaded
with Putin to do something about corruption in the customs service, whose
employees regularly compel scientific institutes to pay bribes they cannot
afford for the delivery of important supplies and instruments purchased
"It's impossible to do anything," Putin replied, according to Velikhov. "The
customs service is too criminalized."
The Putin story illustrates the complexity of Russia's relationship with
democratic ideals and practices in the post-communist era. Putin came to
power as an unknown figure trained in the Soviet KGB, lacking any of the
political experience that might prepare him to be the leader of a fledgling
democracy. And Yeltsin, who plucked Putin from the ranks, was as unpopular as
a leader could be; virtually no Russian called himself or herself a Yeltsin
supporter. Yet Yeltsin's anointment gave Putin instant credibility--"the old
czar choosing the new czar," as one politician put it. At the same time,
Russians seemed to like the fact that Putin (at 47) was Yeltsin's antithesis
in outward respects: young, energetic, able to speak clear sentences,
untainted by the past. This simultaneous distaste for Yeltsin and respect for
his choice of a successor might seem contradictory to outsiders, but not to
Russians. "This dualism is Russia," said Irina M. Khakamada, a leading member
of the democratic "Right Forces" in the Duma. "Russians want to be free, and
they want to be slaves."
Alexander A. Oslon, an impressive young pollster who does surveys for Putin
as he did for Yeltsin, suggested an appealing theory for the evolution of
Russia's politics since the collapse of the Soviet system. "Politics became a
symbolic game, a play," he said. The national politicians were the actors on
stage, the Moscow elites sat in the front row, and the masses packed into the
auditorium behind. As the country's new, struggling democracy stumbled from
crisis to crisis and the national economy declined and then crashed, the
impoverished masses became cynical. "When a politician said the right thing,
the people in back understood either that it meant nothing, or it meant
something other than what he said," Oslon explained. A few individual
politicians briefly persuaded the audience that they were different, but all
eventually fell into disrepute--until Putin appeared on stage.
At first, Putin looked like just another actor in the play, but that changed
after bombs destroyed two Moscow apartment houses in September 1999, Oslon
said. Muscovites poured into the streets every night out of fear that their
building would be next, and spent hours discussing the bombings. Chechen
terrorists were the presumed villains. Then Putin made what is still his most
famous public comment: "We will pursue them everywhere. If, pardon me, we
catch them in the toilet, we'll rub them out right there." His language was
recognized as prison-camp slang.
People suddenly saw Putin as "someone like themselves . . . someone who
didn't play with words, but, like regular people, expressed what was actually
in his mind," Oslon said. Putin's approval numbers began climbing. Two months
after the explosions, his ratings reached 29 percent, according to Oslon's
polls--the highest ever achieved by a politician in post-Soviet Russia. And
they kept going up.
The Moscow elites have not yet figured out Putin's bond with the people,
Oslon said. But the impact of this bond on popular attitudes has been
profound. It is evident in Russians' answers to this polling question: "Have
you found your place in society and are you optimistic that your future will
be better than your present?" Oslon said 25 percent to 30 percent now answer
yes, twice as many as a year ago. Similarly, Russians have come to see their
country as more respected in the world since Putin became president.
"Hope appeared," Oslon said. Boris Nemtsov, a Duma member and leader of the
democratic reformers, agreed. "People want a miracle," Nemtsov said. "They
want their eggs to turn to gold." Politicians and journalists who attack
Putin, Nemtsov added, appear to ordinary Russians to be attacking their hopes
for a better future.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a leading political consultant in Moscow, noted another
reason for Putin's popularity: Salaries and pensions are finally being paid
on time. For years under Yeltsin, the cash-strapped central government
delayed those payments, often for many months.
Two dozen conversations here confirmed Oslon's observation that Moscow's
political elite does not share the popular enthusiasm for Putin. Partly this
is a matter of Putin's origins and style: Though he is a university graduate
who speaks a foreign language (German), many Moscow intellectuals still see
him as a cop and a creation of Yeltsin's unpopular inner circle. Some members
of the Russian elite find his occasional use of crude language, including the
prison-camp slang, offensive. Partly the ambivalence is substantive: Putin
has shown an authoritarian streak that worries thoughtful Russians.
It is exhilarating to hear Russians speculating sincerely about Putin and his
intentions, unafraid to say what they think or fear. But because their
comments seem to describe so many different possible Putins, they evoke
Beckett rather than a traditional political analyst.
Ryzhkov, the Duma member, sees Putin establishing a new kind of authoritarian
regime, one based on elections but without the elements of a true democracy.
Putin has no respect for real pluralism, he said, and no interest in a
government of checks and balances: "Putin believes God has chosen him for a
great role." Yet Ryzhkov can also list positive steps Putin has taken, from
promising court reform to plans to shrink the Russian army. Ryzhkov, a
historian, compares Putin to Czar Alexander III, the reactionary who
succeeded Alexander II, the liberator of Russia's serfs, in 1881. "Most
czars," Ryzhkov said--including Putin in their number--"conduct very strange
policies, often very contradictory."
Many emphasized the constraints on Putin, from the poverty and weakness of
the Russian state to the expectations of ordinary Russians who are now used
to--and comfortable with--basic freedoms. Putin echoes this himself. "There's
no prospect for a return to a totalitarian system. I'm certain that the
market economy and democratic government have definitively won out in Russia
and are here to stay," he told Indian journalists on the eve of his trip this
month to New Delhi. This is one of numerous occasions when he has said what
Western democrats would consider the right thing.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, thanks to whom the new Russia exists,
said Putin deserves the benefit of the doubt. Gorbachev, in an interview,
said Putin had to create a new system of governance, had to "form a team,
which he does not have at the moment," had to get his bearings and come up
with some policies. "It took us three years to begin with perestroika,"
Gorbachev said, referring to the policy of "restructuring" that ultimately
dismantled the U.S.S.R. "How can we make judgments now whether Putin is good
or bad? I can only say that he is open to education, which is very important.
He is sure of himself. He is practical . . . I want to support him to help
him move in the right direction."
So Gorbachev imagines a good Godot, as others wait for something worse.
Can outsiders have any influence now? Strikingly, virtually everyone
interviewed for this article said yes. Putin dearly loves his new status as a
member of the club of government leaders. When he returned to Moscow last
month from the "millennium summit" at the United Nations, Putin invited the
leaders of the Duma's factions for a four-hour meeting. He devoted the first
90 minutes to a painstaking account of his conversations with world leaders,
making clear to his audience how thrilled he had been with all of them.
"He understands that if you want to be a member of the club, you must behave
respectably, eat with a fork and so on," said Nikonov. Like others, he said
Western leaders could have a real impact on Putin, if they chose to.
In the Beckett play, the two characters on stage, Estragon and Vladimir
(where did that Russian name come from?), are archetypal powerless men,
waiting not just for the elusive Godot, but for some resolution of their
fate. This is the role embraced by millions of Russians in the chaos of the
past 10 years.
But Putin has rejected that role in favor of action. Boris Berezovsky, an
oligarch and member of Yeltsin's inner circle who helped choose Putin for
stardom but later turned against him, said recently he thinks Putin wants to
impose democracy on Russia by authoritarian means. Not an easy feat. And
Ryzhkov offered an ominous reminder of Putin's potential authority, given the
absence of any serious political challengers: "Now he can do whatever he
wants. No one will oppose him."
AND JUST LOOK AT LITTLE VOVKA NOW
In the old Soviet Union, children grew up immersed in the cult of Vladimir
Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. In St. Petersburg last month, authorities
released a new schoolbook for beginning students that included a page on the
young Vladimir Putin reminiscent of the Soviet texts on Lenin. The book was
paid for by the local branch of Putin's political party, Unity. Some
This is your president, the one responsible for everything in your country. .
. . When he was little like you, he didn't know he would be president and
would be responsible for everything. Nobody knew. But everyone on the block
knew that Vovka [little Vladimir] was not afraid of anybody and would never
let anybody down. The teacher in school knew he was capable. His coach in
self-defense and judo knew that Volodya [another nickname for Vladimir] was a
genuine fighter with a strong character, that he would fight until the end
and never give up. Nobody knew he would be president. But all the boys and
girls knew that Volodya Putin was a genuine friend and someone you could rely
Then he became a grown-up, studied a lot and worked. He helped good people
and very much disliked bad people. He often traveled and was away from home
for a long time--that was the kind of work he had. His friends, his wife and
daughters missed him. Vladimir always came back because he loved his home,
his family and his friends very much.
And he is still not afraid of anything. He flies in fighter planes, skis down
mountains and goes where there is fighting to stop wars. And all the other
presidents of other countries meet him and respect him very much. And they
show this on television and write about it in the newspapers. Then he had so
many friends--the entire country of Russia--and they elected him president.
Now everyone says: Russia, Putin, Unity! Russia is a great country and
everybody says, everything will be good!
The Observer (UK)
October 15, 2000
Cries from Putin's torture pit
John Sweeney reports on the horror of a Russian prison camp in Chechnya
Inside the prison camp at Chernokozovo, they call it the 'elephant'. 'They
put a gas mask on your head. Your hands are cuffed behind your back, so there
is nothing you can do. And then they close off the breathing tube and you
start to choke.'
The torture victim, a small, wiry Chechen man, knelt down and made the sound
of a man suffocating: 'The "elephant" was the worst.'
A second victim spoke of a refinement of the 'elephant': 'Once the gas mask
was on, they would choke you, so you were gasping to breathe. And they would
let go and you would breathe in deeply. And then they would squirt CS gas
down the breathing hole. It was so bad just the sight of the gas mask in the
room would make people confess to anything.'
The 'elephant' is just one instrument of torture used by the Russian
occupation forces in Chechnya, revealed today in a joint investigation by The
Observer and the BBC's Radio Five Report.
Russian security forces have mounted a series of cover-ups to hide evidence
of abuses from the Red Cross and the Council of Europe. In the small Chechen
village of Katyr Yurt, a torture victim blinded in one eye spoke of the
screams he heard each night while inside Chernokozovo. The screams were so
bad local people were forced to move away because they found them unbearable.
'At night,' he said, 'the things you heard were just terrible. Every night
they would take people out of the cells. They screamed. They had their teeth
bashed in, their kidneys smashed in. You could hear them being beaten from
the cell. So then they would turn the music up loud, so you couldn't hear the
The youngest victim we met was 17. He was living in a refugee city in
Ingushetia, next door to Chechnya. We shall call him Peter. He sat in front
of us, head bowed, terrified of eye contact: 'They handcuffed your arms
behind your back and hooked the cuffs to a chain so you were suspended from
the ceiling, with all your weight bearing down on your hands and shoulders.
And then they would use you like a punchbag. They called this "the swallow".
They'd hold you for half a day like that.'
But this wasn't the worst torture for the teenager: 'They put me in a cell.
There was something chemical in there. They cuffed my hands behind my back
and said, "Go on, swim". I practically lost my sight when they shoved my head
in there. There was also something else, a barrel full of water with a cage
on top. You couldn't get out of there.'
Peter drew us a map. Painstakingly, Chernokozovo came to life. Barbed wire,
steps down to his cell, the punishment tank where he was dunked in the
chemical that left him blind for days.
The second victim - Richard - corroborated much of Peter's story and added
his own account of agony: the 'meat-rack'. 'They crank a pulley to stretch
you with chains attached to your legs. While they stretch you, they hit you
with rubber truncheons, bottles full of water, targeting the kidneys.'
He also underwent 'the swallow' and electric shock torture. Richard said that
one day in the summer a Red Cross representative - a French woman called
Catherine - came to Chernokozovo. Could he tell the Red Cross about the
beatings and torture? 'No, the guards had come round before and told us we
would be tortured if we did.'
The Red Cross has confirmed that one of their delegates visited Chernokozovo;
her name was Catherine and she was Belgian.
Our third witness is a man of 20 who has the voice of an 80-year-old. He
screamed so much when he was being beaten that his vocal cords snapped. In a
pitiful whisper, he too spoke of the usual welcome at Chernokozovo, the
beatings, having to crawl into the interrogation room and ask for permission
While he was there a man was beaten to death: 'I don't remember the date, but
they took him out of the cell one evening. We heard them shouting "Crawl,
crawl". They were beating him and we heard him screaming. Then, the next
morning, they led four of us into his room. His body was lying there. They'd
broken all his ribs. They forced us to carry him out and dressed the body in
the Muslim manner. We dressed the body, covered up with sacks, and they took
us back to the cells. I don't know what they did with the body.'
All of our witnesses were interviewed separately. Although the Chechens, who
have lost the war against Vladimir Putin's greater forces, have every reason
to blacken the name of the Russian occupiers, the victims independently
supplied such detail of torture that their evidence must be conclusive.
Another witness, Paul, 22, spent a month in Chernokozovo, where he says rape
was commonplace, until his family bought him out for $500 (£340) - a year's
pay. He had been put in the fridge, where they had to stand without moving a
muscle. If they twitched, they were beaten. Paul suffered broken ribs, a
cracked vertebra and a mock execution: 'They led me to the corridor. One of
them cocked his sub-machine gun. They'd taken the first bullet out of the
clip. They put the gun to my temple. As one pulled the trigger, the other
clubbed me down. The others could see this from their cells. I'm already dead
in their eyes. Then they dragged me out.'
The torture described is so systematic it cannot be the work of a rogue unit
acting on its own. Following allegations of torture at Chernokozovo by
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe was
allowed to inspect the camp in March. At the same time, torture victims were
taken out of Chernokozovo and put on a prison train that ran up and down
branch lines. None of the survivors who were held in the basement - where the
worst atrocities were carried out - saw anyone from the international
agencies below ground. Neither Amnesty nor the Council of Europe mentions the
basement at Chernokozovo - indicating the prison authorities kept it hidden.
The latest dispersal technique is to dump prisoners in pits - holes in the
ground where the bitter cold of winter is a torture in itself.
One witness who had been held in a pit last month said: 'It was freezing. At
night they would chuck in smoke canisters and let off CS gas. They threw
stones down on us. It was the contraktniki - mercenaries - who did it.'
His family paid a ransom of $1,300 (£900) and they let him go. The Russians
kicked him out of an armoured personnel carrier in the middle of Grozny with
a bag on his head, leaving him for dead.
Putin - whose style has been admired by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook as 'open
and refreshing' - has denied that torture is used by his forces in Chechnya.
Our last witness was eight months pregnant when thrown into a pit. 'They left
me there for two or three days. There was no toilet in the pit. They urinated
on me. They had stripped me down to my underwear; it was freezing, with snow
on the ground.' They beat her repeatedly, she said, because she had helped
the fighters in the First Chechen War, which ended in 1995.
When the baby was born, she said, its face was bruised black and its skull
John Sweeney reports on Radio Five Report at noon today
Washington Post Book World
October 15, 2000
Who Stole Russia?
By Richard Lourie
Richard Lourie, author of a recent novel, "The Autobiography of Joseph
Stalin," is writing a life of Andrei Sakharov.
America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia
By Stephen F. Cohen
Norton. 160 pp. $21.95
GODFATHER OF THE KREMLIN
Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia
By Paul Klebnikov
Harcourt. 400 pp. $28
SALE OF THE CENTURY
Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism
By Chrystia Freeland
Crown Business. 389 pp. $27.50
Russia has been a land of calamity and survival ever since 1237, when the
Golden Horde came clattering into Kiev.
Now the "new" Russia may yet evolve into a modern state, occupied with
technology and commerce, or the bitterness of its humiliations may cause it
to redress grievance with grand ambitions on the world stage. When Robert
Strauss retired as U.S. ambassador to Moscow in 1992, he said that we had to
decide what it was we wanted.a strong, friendly Russia or a strong,
unfriendly Russia. No matter what, Russia would be strong.
There's a sense now of an opportunity squandered, by us and by them. Though
these three books differ in perspective, evaluation and tone, they are at one
in sharing that sense of folly, rime and blindness.
Paul Klebnikov, senior editor at Forbes, and Chrystia Freeland, former Moscow
bureau chief for the Financial Times, both provide colorful, detailed
accounts of the looting of Russia. But since thievery on that scale could not
have occurred without the connivance of people in power, the forces of
economics and politics converge. These books show you how the two arenas
meshed--cogs, grease and all. Stephen Cohen, a New York University professor
and CBS news consultant, emphasizes the American side, with its misreads and
misdeeds. He sees American journalists, academics and policy makers
hypnotized by an idea that had nothing to do with reality. Russia was not
making a transition to democratic capitalism; it was being plundered and
plunged into a misery that is all too supportable by statistics--$2 billion
in capital flight a month, 70 percent of the population living beneath the
poverty line, Russians dying in their middle fifties. (A friend of mine,
turning 59, joked: "I'm officially dead.")
Cohen is unambivalent in his belief that the "Clinton administration put
America on the wrong side of history in post-Communist Russia." No devotee of
understatement, Cohen calls the result the "worst foreign policy disaster
since Vietnam, and its long-term consequences more perilous." But he is an
excellent critic because he knows his own mind and has no fear of speaking
it. "We can judge the failure by exact criteria," he writes. "After the
breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the foremost goal of U.S. policy-makers
should have been a Russia in full control of its enormous quantities of
nuclear weapons and other devices of mass destruction, and therefore one that
was prospering, politically stable, at peace, and cooperating with the United
States on the most threatening international problems." Since Russia fails to
meet any of those "exact criteria," American foreign policy can only be
judged a shambles.
America foreign policy toward Russia failed from a combination of ahistorical
hubris--now that they're free of communism, they'll want to become exactly
like us--and willful blindness. Cohen uses the same 1998 quote from Vice
President Gore twice: "Optimism prevails universally among those who are
familiar with what is going on in Russia." If, as Cohen contends, a country
so degraded that it is even slipping out of modernity is a cause for
optimism, what exact picture of the world does the Democratic candidate carry
around in his head?
Most probably, "Who lost Russia?" will not be a campaign issue, for the good
reason that no one's interested. But that could change if something were to
go significantly awry in Russia, where lately submarines have been sinking
and television towers bursting into flame. Here is Cohen, imagining history's
indictment: "The U.S. government, enthusiastically supported by many
journalists and scholars, actively encouraged a Yeltsin regime which enabled
a small clique of predatory insiders to plunder Russia's most valuable
Klebnikov, who is more intent on describing that plunder, is also in perfect
accord with Cohen: "The Clinton administration, in particular, while
trumpeting the principles of democracy and the free market, repeatedly
ignored evidence that the Yeltsin regime was a kleptocracy." Chrystia
Freeland is a little more forgiving of human nature: "It took us a while to
abandon the image of Boris Yeltsin on the tank as the defining icon of the
New Russia. The collapse of the evil empire, the velvet revolution, and the
end of history were such hopeful stories . . . they were hard to stop
believing." But it wasn't gaudy Russian mafiosi, though they got press, who
were the cause of the country's dire condition: "Russia has been looted all
right, but the biggest crimes haven't been clandestine or violent or even, in
the strict legal sense, crimes at all. Russia was robbed in broad daylight,
by businessmen who broke no laws, assisted by the West's best friends in the
Kremlin--the young reformers." Though she apportions blame differently, her
version of events does nothing to alter the image of cheerful myopia at home
and a greed in Russia so outsized that Gogol would have blanched.
The obvious question here is whether a new consensus has emerged with its own
mantra and mindset, of exactly the type Cohen derides--or whether these three
accounts match so closely because they describe something so huge and grossly
obvious that no other rendition is possible. Unfortunately, it's the latter.
Though alike in so many ways, these three books are also quite different.
Cohen's is basically an indictment of American foreign policy, its tone at
times approaching jeremiad, an effect both heightened and dulled by the
inclusion, with postscripts, of many of the author's journalistic pieces from
the '90s. Inevitably, some points get hammered again and again--the Clinton
administration was naive and arrogant in its "virtual crusade to transform
post-Communist Russia into some facsimile of the American democratic and
capitalist system." Not only were we failing to achieve what Cohen insists
should have been our foreign policy aims, but we were too closely engaged in
Russia's affairs, attempting to coerce the Russians with the "moral" and
financial powers of the victor.
While comparing Yeltsin to Lincoln during the first Chechen War, Clinton also
actively pursued a policy that Russians viewed as aggressive, if not hostile.
Accepting Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic into NATO, bombing Serbia,
attempting to divert the transportation of Caspian Sea oil away from
Russia--none of these could be seen as anything but encroachments. Our basic
stance should in fact be the one advocated by the grand old man of Russian
studies, George F. Kennan, whom Cohen quotes: "The ways by which peoples
advance toward dignity and enlightenment in government are things that
constitute the deepest and most intimate processes of national life. There is
nothing less understandable to foreigners, nothing in which foreign
interference can do less good."
What Cohen does advocate is something "akin to the American New Deal of the
1930s." In this scenario, the industrialized nations play FDR and invest $500
billion in Russia over a 10-year period. But Cohen doesn't answer the
questions that follow hard upon this recommendation: How are such sums to be
monitored in a land where theft is rife? Or will that control be exerted from
within, by Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin who regards such power as his
mandate from history?
Klebnikov's and Freeland's books will especially appeal to readers who enjoy
closely documented financial transactions--alliances, structures, strategies
and the art of the deal. Though they inevitably cover the same events and
people (there are only seven oligarchs to go around), the two authors differ
in tone and take. Freeland writes in a sprightly style, and though she
occasionally slips into gratuitous vulgarity, she can be quite adroit at
summing a person up with three quick adjectives, as in this sketch of
Yeltsin: "crude, mercurial, and intuitive." In her numerous interviews she
catches the reformers in the coils of their self-deception. One of them,
Chubais, says of the oligarchs and others: "They are stealing absolutely
everything and it is impossible to stop them. But let them steal and take
their property. They will then become owners and decent administrators of
But that's not what happened, as Klebnikov clearly demonstrates in his
portrait of Boris Berezovsky, the former scientist who became probably the
richest man in Russia, and whose "most destructive legacy was that, as a
private individual, he hijacked the state. . . . He and other crony
capitalists produced no benefit to Russia's consumers, industries, or
treasury. No new wealth was created." The frequently made comparisons with
Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and Morgan simply don't wash--however rapacious
they may have been, they built the nation's steel, oil, automotive and
financial industries. Klebnikov sees an absolute blurring among crime,
business and government in the Russia of the '90s. And the atmosphere of murk
and murder around Berezovsky fully justifies Klebnikov's use of "Godfather"
in his title. There is some evidence, though insufficient, that Berezovsky
made efforts to have his chief rival killed. And Berezovsky himself was the
target of an assassination attempt--a bomb was placed in his car; he was
badly burned and his driver decapitated.
The sudden, astonishing collapse of the Soviet Union was humbling not only
for Russia but also for those who watch it by profession. No one saw it
coming. And whatever lurch Russia makes next will also probably catch us by
surprise. Will Rogers put it best: "Russia is a country that no matter what
you say about it, it's true."
The Russia Journal
October 14-20, 2000
SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Misha-2%ís lesson for Misha-5%
By Andrei Piontkovsky
Misha 2 percent gives Misha 5 percent a lesson in professional ethics ≠ the
modern artist could give this name to his collective portrait of the
members of the Russian government, infused with statesmanlike solemnity and
"sobornost." The noble and brave features of the head of this great stateís
government exude sternness and ruthlessness toward vice. Bowing his bull
neck, on which a gold chain would look so fitting, the minister guilty of
misdemeanors stands meek and helpless.
But this work has a deeper and life-affirming layer to it. The tired
wrinkles around the prime ministerís exhausted eyes hide a glimpse of
cunning and at the same time, of fatherly tenderness. Itís as if heís
saying to his mates, the other members of the government:
"Yes, Misha 5 percent thought he could pull off a little swindle and take
his cut from the 300 million, and because of that, the gullible sucker got
the better of him. So letís give him a little ticking off for that. But on
the whole, heís a good lad, our kind of guy and a reliable Overseer of the
media. Weíre not going to let the anti-state media tear him apart. Donít
get your hopes up, Shendorovich and company."
Of course they wonít get their hopes up. Both Mishas, 2 percent and 5
percent, knew this from the moment at the very beginning of the scandal
when Misha 5 percent, asked during an interview with Kommersant whether the
president knew about protocol No. 6 and what his reaction was, said "His
reaction was absolutely normal."
His reaction was absolutely normal. That is to say, the president didnít
stamp his feet at him and didnít shout at him like Napoleon at Talleyrand
"Mr. Minister, you are filth in silk stockings."
That would have been unjust, and not in keeping with the way things are
done. The traditional sobs of the intellectual Putinists go along the lines
of "they set him up, misled him, didnít tell him, he didnít know." But this
all leaves out one major question ≠ on whose bidding did our most
independent prosecutorís office in the world take on any and every indecent
pose like a common prostitute in full keeping with the latest draft of the
protocols of Lesinís wise men, arresting, setting free, not letting on the
air, opening and closing the case? Maybe it was patriot Kokh, the amnestied
writer who steered the prosecutorís office this way?
But our Putinists havenít studied their leaderís biography very well.
There, itís written in black and white, and even schoolchildren have
learned by heart that little Vovochka not only didnít smoke or drink, but
he "really did not like bad people." Even back then, he had flawless
judgment when it came to sniffing out bad people. This marvelous quality ≠
ruthlessness toward the enemies of the Reich ≠ runs like a thread through
Vovochkaís life, and now, when good people have made him our top boss, heís
certainly never going to give bad people any peace and quiet.
As Misha 5 percent justly pointed out in his interview to Kommersant,
protocol No. 6 is the new Russiaís greatest achievement. Indeed, in the old
Russia, a bad person who happened to earn the dislike of whoever the latest
Vovochka was was guaranteed either a bullet in the back of the head, or a
place by the prison cell shit bucket and some intellectual cellmates for
the rest of his life. But in the new Russia, a bad person can get away with
no more than three days by the shit bucket.
So here it is, the great leap to freedom made by the new Russia ≠ from
Svidrigailovís Eternity to Ustinovís three days by the shit bucket. Itís a
pity only that this Russian Magna Charta Libertatum applies not to all bad
people, but only to those amongst them who can offer the Mishas and Vovas
shares, factories, banks and other good things in exchange.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center of Strategic Research.)
October 15, 2000
Iron Curtain lingers at Belarus polls
By David Filipov, Globe Staff and Anna Badkhen Globe Correspondent
MINSK, Belarus - Slobodan Milosevic is out of power in Yugoslavia. That
leaves Alexander Lukashenko as Europe's last Communist-style leader.
That is the way Western governments and the small opposition here view
Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, the former Soviet republic of 10.4
million, landlocked and wedged between Poland and Russia.
As Belarussians prepared for a parliamentary election today that has been
ridiculed here and in the West as a political farce, signs of the neo-Soviet
system that Lukashenko has installed were evident in the capital, Minsk.
As several thousand opposition supporters marched to protest the vote,
Lukashenko's security forces were gearing up to meet ''provocations'' by
''foreign agents'' with ''harsh measures.''
Opposition leaders in Minsk suspect that security police, still known here as
the KGB, are responsible for the disappearances of several prominent
Lukashenko critics in recent months.
Suspicions were also aroused by the recent formation of a ''State Ideological
Department,'' a reincarnation of the Communist Party cells that once gave the
Soviet government a presence in all walks of life.
''They will allow people to understand better what the government wants,''
the Belarus prime minister, Vladimir Yermoshin, said in an interview
yesterday, explaining the role of the Ideological Department. ''They will
inform the people about state policies.''
Lukashenko's government controls the only national television channel, and
most other media. Opposition parties have said that they have been denied
equal access to television and radio, and that many of their candidates have
been prevented from registering by pro-Lukashenko officials.
Newspapers urging the nation to boycott the elections have been seized, and
the people who distributed them have been detained. Some of Lukashenko's
prominent critics have disappeared, such as the former police chief, Yuri
Zakharenko, and a former Lukashenko aide, Viktor Gonchar.
Andrei Feduta, Lukashenko's former press secretary and currently an
opposition candidate for the Legislature, claims to have become the latest
victim. Feduta was beaten Friday; his wife Marina said Feduta believed the
attack was politically motivated.
There was no violence at yesterday's rally, where visible police presence was
minimal. The protesters seemed to have drawn inspiration from the removal
last week of Milosevic in Yugoslavia. ''Milosevic today, Luka tomorrow,''
read one banner, using one of the opposition's derisive nicknames for the
Western countries have refused to send full-fledged delegations to observe
today's vote, and the US State Department has said it will not recognize the
results of a poll it considers ''undemocratic.''
Lukashenko, who swept to power in a landslide in 1994, has since grown
isolated from the West after dissolving an opposition-led Parliament and
extending his term through a 1996 referendum that shifted most political
power to the presidency. Lukashenko has said he would seek reelection next
Lukashenko's camp says the Belarus reputation is a product of Western
''The West wants us to have the kind of democracy, the kind of bloodshed they
have in Moldova, in Georgia, in Armenia,'' said a Lukashenko aide, Sergei
Poshokhov. ''We don't want that kind of democracy. We want our kind of
democracy. We are spiritual people. We don't have men marrying other men in
Lukashenko said last week: ''We have our own road to travel.''
This road has bypassed the privatization seen in other former Soviet
republics; about 80 percent of workers in Belarus are employed in state-run
But that has not kept the country free of corruption. A treaty with Moscow
that has removed customs controls between Belarus and Russia has allowed
millions to flow in and out of ''presidential funds'' controlled by
Lukashenko's administration, analysts say.
Belarus has no extended history as an independent country, and many here long
for their recent past as part of the Slavic heartland of both imperial Russia
and the Soviet Union. Lukashenko has exploited this sentiment with symbolic
moves, such as returning Soviet-era textbooks to schools and universities,
and restoring the Soviet-era official emblem for Belarus. He has pushed for a
political and economic union with Russia, although it has stopped well short
of reuniting the two countries.
Russia, happy to have an ally to its west , has played along, but Moscow has
kept Lukashenko at arm's length. The Kremlin reacted coolly to Lukashenko's
proposal in the spring to base a large force in Belarus to defend against
NATO. Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, prefers to talk about Belarus
paying its debts to Moscow for natural gas shipments.
For ordinary Belarussians, hardship is evident everywhere. The average
monthly wage is about $40. Shops are scarce, and there is not much to buy.
Although temperatures were in the 40s, the centralized systems that heat most
homes will not be turned on until the mercury stays below freezing for four
days in a row.
Poshokhov says that the nation is well off and that Western standards of
living simply do not apply here. But in Minsk, many seem disillusioned.
''I am absolutely sure that these elections are useless, because under the
circumstances of dictatorship they cannot be legitimate,'' said Ksenia, 40, a
television journalist who asked that her last name not be used because she is
''afraid to lose my job, afraid for my family.''
''It took Yugoslavia 13 years to get rid of Milosevic,'' she said. ''It will
take Belarus more than that to get rid of Lukashenko.''
Filipov wrote and reported from Moscow; Badkhen reported from Minsk.
The Electric Telegraph (UK)
15 October 2000
Putin favours restoring Soviet national anthem
By Guy Chazan in Moscow
VLADIMIR PUTIN, the Russian President, is considering a controversial
proposal to bring back the old Soviet-era national anthem - an idea that
appeals to many Russians but horrifies others.
Vladimir Putin: wants to restore the Soviet anthem, but with new words
Newspaper reports say that millions would welcome the restoration of the old
anthem, a powerful, sentimental tune composed in 1943, the year of the Red
Army's victory at Stalingrad. Many others, however, view such a move as a
retrograde step. They are concerned that Russia is struggling to fashion a
new national identity, free of communist baggage.
Renewed interest in the rousing anthem comes amid growing calls for the
rehabilitation of Soviet-era symbols. Mr Putin is known to hanker after such
trappings. Russia has been without an official anthem since the 1991 Soviet
collapse. A temporary stand-in, composed by Mikhail Glinka, was chosen by the
former president, Boris Yeltsin, but has not been ratified by parliament.
The 19th century composer Glinka was one of the founding fathers of modern
Russian music, but his wordless Patriotic Song has not caught on - least of
all among Russia's medal-winning athletes who appeared faintly embarrassed
when it was played. Some Russian newspapers speculated that Russia's poor
performance in the first week of the Sydney Olympics was due to low morale
engendered by the lack of a proper national hymn.
A working group, headed by Vladimir Yakovlev, the governor of St Petersburg,
has been told by Mr Putin to come up with a solution. It is considering three
options: to keep the Glinka tune and write words for it; to choose another
song, such as the patriotic My Fatherland is Wide; or to restore the Soviet
anthem, but with new words.
Mr Putin is said by Kremlin officials to favour the last option. This song,
whose melody was written by the Soviet composer Alexander Alexandrov, badly
needs updating. It begins by describing the USSR as an "indestructible union
of free republics". Many music critics are horrified at the prospect of a
return to the old anthem.
Yaroslav Sedov of the magazine Itogi said: "Alexandrov's tune is a period
piece - grandiose, pompous and very Soviet, a monument to a time that has
past. It epitomises all the political illusions that I thought this country
had shed over the past 10 years." Mr Putin discussed the issue last week with
regional governors on the consultative State Council.
Viktor Ishayev, head of the eastern region of Khabarovsk, said: "The anthem
should embody a strong state, and anyone who hears it should experience a
sense of pride in his country. The present one does not match these
criteria." Proposals will be presented to Mr Putin on November 22. Mr Ishayev
said the President would then make the final choice or put the issue to a
If he does, the chances are that Russians will vote for the old Soviet
anthem. An opinion poll carried out earlier this year found that 21 per cent
of respondents wanted to restore it - and even keep the old words. Eighteen
per cent wanted the old tune with a new text, while only 15 per cent were
happy to stick with Glinka's melody. A further 15 per cent wanted a new
Some commentators say they understand Mr Putin's sympathies. Andrei
Piontkovsky of the Centre for Strategic Studies said: "This is not surprising
considering his mentality and background as a former KGB officer. This is a
man who was devoted to the state that he served. He obviously still has a
hankering for its symbols."
The Russia Journal
October 14-20, 2000
Trend could hatch dozens of Pinochets
By Alexander Golts
Events in Russian political life are increasingly confirming the theory
that President Vladimir Putinís "vertical of power" concept is based on the
ideal of military hierarchical subordination.
As if on command, generals from the armed forces and secret services are
preparing to take the heights of the Russian regions. The fact that five of
the seven presidential representatives in the federal districts are
generals was just the beginning. According to unofficial data, up to 70
percent of federal inspectors in the Russian regions are reserve military
Meanwhile, several generals have launched themselves into regional election
campaigns. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, a hero of the second Chechen war, is
running for governor of the Ulyanovsk Oblast; commander of the Baltic fleet
Adm. Vladimir Yegorov wants to become governor of Kaliningrad.
The FSB (Federal Security Service) is also following the fashion. Two of
its generals are running for governor ≠ Vladimir Kulakov in Voronezh Oblast
and Viktor Surzhikov in Kursk Oblast.
So these generals donít cut too lonely a figure on the political landscape,
someone has thought to create a new party ≠ Soyuz (Union) ≠ which will
unite reserve military officers under the slogan "Law, order ≠ rule of
law." The new partyís head is Mikhail Moiseyev, the last head of the Soviet
General Headquarters, who was dismissed after supporting the attempted coup
in 1991. Also, at the partyís head is former commander in chief of Interior
Ministry troops Anatoly Shkirko.
The newly born partyís leaders donít hide their conviction that the
generals are just the politicians Russia needs to bring order to the
country. They cite the example of military leaders abroad, from Charles De
Gaulle to Augusto Pinochet, who have gone on to head their countries.
The organizers of Soyuz also emphasize their loyalty to the current
authorities and their rejection of extremism ≠ previous military-organized
parties such as Movement in Support of the Army and Union of Officers took
a radical anti-government stand.
The impression is that Soyuz is a sort of second pro-government Yedinstvo
(Unity, also known as Medved, "bear"). Itís no secret that Yedinstvo was
formed by governors hoping that, in exchange for their support in
elections, Putin would leave them alone. But Putin went on to chase the
provincial barons from the Federation Council, which will most probably
cost him support from Yedinstvo in the regions. This would explain why the
spin doctors have hastened to train a new bear and give it stripes this time.
What kind of future awaits these politicians? Itís true that generals
becoming governors is nothing new in Russia. Just take the colorful figures
of Kursk Gov. Alexander Rutskoi and his Krasnoyarsk counterpart Alexander
Lebed. Neither has attained any particular success, but nor have they done
anything especially awful. Their regions fall within the Russian average
for corruption and bureaucratic stupidity.
But itís worth remembering that both Rutskoi and Lebed were pariahs of
sorts. Voters felt that the Kremlin had treated them unjustly, and their
victories were the result of protest voting. Though voted in as opposition
figures, however, both Rutskoi and Lebed ended up having to smooth out
their relations with Moscow. They had to put in more effort than their
civilian counterparts to get any practical issues resolved, and all this
left no room for them to show their real "generalsí" characters.
But if governor posts go to generals who feel assured that the Kremlin
supports them and that they represent Moscowís line, the results could be
sad indeed. The style of administration in a military district or regional
FSB office is very different to that of the regional administration proper.
Military officers are obliged to obey any order without question, whereas
civilian officials can interpret an order until it becomes unrecognizable.
Itís unlikely that all the private companies will rush to obey the various
orders that new general-governors might want to give, but if the generals
run up against resistance, the temptation will be to settle the issue using
strong-arm tactics. Certainly, if they feel they have the backing of
Moscow, they wonít be willing to tolerate a free press. Rather than being a
recipe for strengthening the "vertical of power," a dozen little Pinochets
in the Russian regions could be a recipe for the most authentic chaos.
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