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Johnson's Russia List


November 7, 2000    

This Date's Issues: 4625  4626 


Johnson's Russia List
7 November 2000

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Itar-Tass: Russia to cooperate with any US administration - Putin's aide.
2. Russia favors Al Gore for President but has no fear of George Bush either.
3. Bloomberg: Former Eastern Bloc Nations Face Debt Trap, IMF's Koehler Warns.
4. Reuters: Russia regions vote amid Kremlin power play rumours.
5. RFE/RL: Sophie Lambroschini, Scientist -- Siberian Radioactive Pollution Has Recent Origin.
6. Itar-Tass: Duma Panel Draws up Proposals to Settle Chechnya Situation.
7. Interfax: Poll views attitudes to price hikes.
9. Polly Sprenger, Keeping Truth Alive. Pravda, the Russian newspaper, is teetering on the brink of death. But a Web site that grabbed Pravda's name is springing to life.
10. New Statesman (UK): Book Reviews - Crime and punishment. Russia is emerging from the ashes of communism as a relatively benign force in the world. John Lloyd on the nation's long, painful
road to recovery.


Russia to cooperate with any US administration - Putin's aide

Moscow, 6th November: Moscow is determined to continue "equal and mutually
advantageous dialogue" with the United States in all areas, both on bilateral
and international issues, the president's deputy chief of staff Sergey
Prikhodko said.

He told ITAR-TASS on Monday [6th November] that "we are ready to cooperate
with any administration, as we understand that there are many spheres where
relations between Russia and the USA are vital to global stability".

Whatever administration moves into the White House, Russia will expect it to
ensure "continuity in interaction with Russia and the consolidation of the
positive potential created by the leaders of the USA and our country in the
last years", Prikhodko said.

"We are set to continue talks on the issues which are important to Russia and
the United States," he added.

Prikhodko described as a "significant element" Russia's "expectation of
serious progress in trade and economic cooperation with the USA, and the
removal of the negative heritage in the form of some amendments (to the US
constitution) and draft laws".

Moscow also hopes that "cooperation in the field of high technologies will be
enhanced", he said.


November 6, 2000
Russia favors Al Gore for President but has no fear of George Bush either
By Aram Yavrumyan

As of today, both contenders for the U.S. presidency have absolutely equal
chances of winning. George Bush is ahead of Al Gore by 1% in national
ratings, but their standing among the electors is almost identical.

Much will depend, therefore, on who scoops the vote of those who thus far
support the other 14 runners, like Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. Another
important factor is electoral turnout. The Democrats traditionally rely on
the least disciplined Latin and black voters. The Republican support base is
mostly white and more responsible about their civic duties.

The key state in this respect is California with its high proportion of Latin
and black residents. The latest polls point to George Bush's dramatically
increased popularity standing among the local electorate. If by any miracle
he manages to win in California, he may as well consider himself President.

An influential Russian newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta (05/11/00, pp. 1, 6),
writes that it is no secret that Moscow has put a stake on the current
Vice-President, Al Gore. One of the reasons for this choice is that he is
number two in the present Administration and has established a stable, if not
ideal, relationship with the Kremlin. Despite numerous differences, Moscow
and Washington could conduct a very frank dialogue and settle all disputes
through talks as soon as they cropped up.

Judging by Bush's foreign policy program, he is not overly in favor of a
dialogue with Russia. Of course, it is necessary to come to terms with
Moscow, it implies, but if nothing comes out of it, America will do as it
sees fit despite the Russian position whatever it is.

The Democrats, in principle, did the same. But the most graphic example of
this behavior, the NATO war against Yugoslavia, has taught them that this
sort of treatment as applied to Russia will yield only negative results.
Thus, there are some, if not 100%, guarantees that the White House will be
with the Kremlin if Gore becomes President.

But a Republican victory will not mean a slump in Russian - U.S. relations
either. Bush is a good proposition for Russia if only because he is
inexperienced in foreign policy. More than that, definite work has been done
in respect of himself and his people over the last one and a half year. Bush
is not a man to be feared in the post of U.S. President. Nevertheless, yet
another Democratic presidency would be more preferable for Russia, says the
paper in conclusion.


Former Eastern Bloc Nations Face Debt Trap, IMF's Koehler Warns
Vienna, Nov. 6 (Bloomberg)
-- A looming debt crunch for Eastern European countries will be
exacerbated by the growing cost of restructuring banks, expanding social
services and caring for an aging population, said International Monetary Fund
Managing Director Horst Koehler.

Keeping taxes down while solving those problems will be a challenge for the
former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries that have seen their economies
stumble and debts rise in a decade of free market reforms, Koehler said.

``The rise in external debt levels for some of the poorest countries of the
former Soviet Union is particularly worrisome,'' Koehler said in remarks
prepared for a speech tonight to the National Bank of Austria. ``Resolving it
will require not only intensified adjustment but also support from creditors
and donors.''

The economies of the former Soviet Union are now smaller than they were when
that nation collapsed a decade ago, leading many analysts to conclude that
the reforms prescribed by the IMF and World Bank have failed.

Koehler acknowledged that a decade of reform has left many people worse off.

``In many countries, key sectors of the economy are still in decline, leaving
whole regions facing catastrophic unemployment,'' he said. ``For the vast
majority of people, measured per capita incomes remain lower than a decade


The Eastern European countries that weren't part of the former Soviet Union,
such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, have are better off, according to a
fund research paper published today.

``These countries have re-joined the ranks of middle-income countries and can
claim to have transitioned,'' Koehler said.

Many critics say that the transformation of the former Soviet countries such
as Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan was co-opted by corrupt politicians and
businessmen who improperly grabbed former state-run firms during the
privatization process.

Koehler said that cutting back on corruption and selling state-owned firms
will be the key to Eastern Europe's success over the next decade.

Selling state-owned oil, power and other companies `` is essential, but must
be done with care,'' he said. ``It is critically important that the
privatization process be transparent and competitive and that appropriate
regulatory structures be in place.''

Koehler said that as the countries face the next wave of reforms, they'll
have to balance competing pressures. On the one hand, ``tax burdens and debt
ratios are already on the high side.'' On the other, the countries need to
restructure banks and companies, expand and strengthen their social services,
rebuild roads and bridges and care for an aging population.

The functioning of government needs to improve to solve those problems.

``Poor governance and weak institutions create too many opportunities for
corruption, undermining investor confidence and eroding public support for
reform,'' Koehler said.


Russia regions vote amid Kremlin power play rumours
November 6, 2000
By Ron Popeski
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Weekend regional elections in Russia returned a communist
and put an ally of President Vladimir Putin in a solid position in campaigns
punctuated by charges the Kremlin is trying to manipulate local politics.

Results tabulated Monday showed Communist Alexander Mikhailov had won the
governorship of southern Kursk region, site of the world's biggest tank
battle in World War II. He takes over from incumbent Alexander Rutskoi --
disqualified hours before the first round two weeks ago.

In the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, the commander of the Baltic Fleet,
Vladimir Yegorov, will take a healthy lead into a run-off after scoring 38
percent. Russian media say Putin backs Yegorov against the current governor,
Leonid Gorbenko, his opponent in the decisive round.

A third poll in Magadan, site of Stalinist camps in the far east, gave easy
victory to the incumbent, Valentin Tsvetkov.

Since his election in March, Putin has set about cutting Russia's governors
down to size, hammering through legislation to remove them from the upper
house of parliament and threatening them with removal if they broke laws.

He carved Russia, the world's largest country, into seven super-regions and
dispatched envoys to ensure that local officials abandoned the confrontations
they engaged in with his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and adhered strictly to
federal law.

With a series of local elections due in coming weeks, speculation mounted
that Putin wanted to tighten the screws even further with the publication in
a Moscow newspaper last month of a list of governors he wanted out of the

One of the governors on the list published by Novaya Gazeta was Rutskoi,
thrown out of the Kursk race by election officials who said he submitted
incorrect information about his property.

Rutskoi said his disqualification was a Kremlin move to get rid of a
temperamental but popular governor, but Russia's supreme court upheld the
findings of electoral officials.

Rutskoi opposed Yeltsin and led a 1993 parliament uprising crushed by tanks
sent by the Kremlin. He was later reconciled with Yeltsin, but fell out of
favor after Putin came to power.


Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov praised Mikhailov's victory in Kursk as
"symbolic and logical" after laying a wreath at Soviet state founder Vladimir
Lenin's mausoleum ahead of Tuesday's 83rd anniversary of the Bolshevik

Zyuganov, rarely in the limelight since his defeat by Putin, predicted
leftists would "gain more and more in public stature."

But Mikhailov made no effort to distance himself from Putin.

"We feel that he has the desire to resolve many things constructively,
including the social and economic spheres," he told private NTV television.
"Today, in general, we are allies."

Others on Novaya Gazeta's list were governors of Bryansk in southern Russia,
Vladimir, north of Moscow and Ryazan, south of the capital, plus a top
candidate in nearby Kaluga.

All the regions hold elections by the end of the year.

The Kremlin refused to comment on the report. At least one regional official
dismissed it as unfounded.

In Kaliningrad, Baltic Fleet Commander Yegorov, whose campaign focused on
photographs of himself alongside Putin, rolled up a 16-point lead over
Gorbenko in the first round.

Putin spent little time with Gorbenko during a recent visit to the naval port
in Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost territory and home town of his wife


Russia: Scientist -- Siberian Radioactive Pollution Has Recent Origin
By Sophie Lambroschini

Russian officials are denying the findings of a recent environmental survey
calling two Siberian rivers the most radioactive bodies of water in the
world. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini spoke to one of the
authors of the survey, who explained the study's methods and the results.

Moscow, 6 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian officials and environmentalists
are locked in a war of words over allegations that the eastern province of
Siberia is home to the world's most radioactive rivers.

Physicist Sergey Pashchenko, who took part in a recent Russian-American
non-governmental survey of radioactive pollution in Siberia, says the study
proves the Seversk nuclear complex is guilty of discharging radioactive
elements into nearby rivers.

But Russian officials refuse to acknowledge the results and say the claims
are absurd.

The survey was the work of the U.S. group "Government Accountability
Project." That NGO worked with prominent Russian scientists earlier this
summer compiling the findings. The group made the results known last week.

Pashchenko says the group was not surprised to find pollution in the Techa
River near the infamous Mayak nuclear facility (Chelyabinsk). But he says it
was very surprised find the Romashka and Tom rivers to contain so much

The Romashka flows through the Seversk complex, considered to be the biggest
nuclear complex in Russia, before flowing into the larger Tom River.

At first, the group assumed the pollution was a holdover from Cold War days.
The Seversk plant produced weapons-grade plutonium and commonly discharged
radioactive pollutants such as strontium-90 into the river. Strontium residue
can last for decades.

But when scientists analyzed the sample, they discovered most of the
radioactivity was not caused by strontium but by another element,
phosphorus-32. Phosphorus-32 is notable because it's only present in
measurable traces for about two months. This told the scientists the
pollution was relatively recent.

"This is a fresh discharge because in two months, it would have completely
disintegrated and it's an important discharge of phosphorus-32. Now begins
the technical questions about what happened but that we cannot answer because
we weren't allowed to inspect the reactor."

This is not the first time the Seversk complex has been in the news. In 1993,
a tank at the complex exploded, releasing radioactive waste. Russian
authorities at the time called the accident the most serious nuclear incident
since the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident. The plant later reduced its
activity and closed three out of its five reactors under a 1992 U.S.- Russia
safety agreement.

Pashchenko believes the radioactivity did not come from an accident or from a
storage leak, but from water flushed every day around the two remaining
reactors to cool them down.

"So where does the phosphorus-32 come from? It's very simple. In the
environment and water there's a lot of phosphorus-31. When this phosphorus-31
is irradiated, it becomes phosphorus-32, and that's already a radioactive

He says this would make sense if the two Seversk reactors are cooled by an
older type of system called "one-through" systems. These coolant systems were
built in the 1960s and used river water to cool the reactors.

"The...old reactors always need to be cooled, the same way an engine needs to
be cooled. So the first reactors took water from a nearby river, flushed it
though the radioactive elements to take away excessive heat, and then the
water was again thrown into the river. These reactors were mostly military
ones for making weapon-grade plutonium, so no one tried to save the heat. The
reactors of the next generation already used heat for electricity and

In its report, the Government Accountability Project does not name the cause
of the discharge. It says no present-day operation can account for the
short-lived fraction of radioactivity, but the report does speculate that the
source could be a military reactor or an immense particle accelerator.

Pashchenko says phosphorus-32 is dangerous to human health and can penetrate
the body through drinking water or eating fish from the river. It can also
penetrate through the skin or be inhaled through water droplets in the air.
Pashchenko says laboratory studies show that mice die quickly when exposed to

He says the next step is to calculate the intake of the element by locals
inhabitants but this is expensive and would exceed the NGO's resources.

Reacting to the report over the weekend, Russian officials played down the
situation in the two rivers.

Natural Resources Ministry official Andrey Pechkurov says there are "pockets
of radioactive residue." But he says calling the Tom the most radioactively
polluted river in the world is "baseless." The ministry says occasional
observations, such as used in the study's methodology, are no substitute for
permanently monitoring the environment, as the ministry does.

A local government representative in Seversk says the survey is inaccurate
and the ecological situation in the area has actually improved.

The Seversk plant now is threatening to sue at least one foreign publication,
the British daily The Guardian, for running news of the survey last week.

It's not clear what effect the survey will have. Earlier this year, the
country's only independent but officially recognized organ for monitoring the
environment, the State Committee for the Protection of the Environment, was
disbanded and integrated into the Natural Resources ministry.
Environmentalists at the time issued warnings the absence of an acknowledged
watchdog would leave the country without protection from dangerous industrial
projects backed by the government.


Duma Panel Draws up Proposals to Settle Chechnya Situation 

MOSCOW, November 3 (Itar-Tass) - Draft proposals for a comprehensive
settlement of the situation in Chechnya have been drawn up in the State
Duma lower house of the Russian parliament.
    An official in the House commission for the promotion of the
normalisation of socio-political and socio-economic situation and the
observance of human rights in the Chechen Republic has told Itar-Tass that
recommendations are addressed to the President, the Government, various
ministries and departments of the Russian Federation and the Head of the
Provisional Administration of Chechnya.
     It is suggested in particular that the Head of State consider the
question of introducing an institution of Special Presidential
Representative in the Chechen Republic with functions to coordinate and
monitor the actions of Federal ministries and departments, including
security-related ones, as well as the question of representation of
migrants from the republic in Federal power bodies.
     The largest package of recommendations is intended for the Russian
government which is suggested, among other things, to adopt a number of
Federal programmes for the socio-economic development of the Chechen
Republic, the rehabilitation of residents of and migrants from the republic
as well as participants in the counterterrorist operation, and grant
customs and taxation privileges to this Subject of the Federation and
ensure targeted allocation of funds to resolve the most acute problems of
the reconstruction and development
of the Chechen Republic.
    The Ministries of Defence and the Interior are recommended to take
urgent measures to prevent indiscriminate and non-adequate use of force as
well as offences against the civilian population, reduce the overall number
of checkpoints and fully eliminate them in Chechnya's three northern areas,
declaring them a "zone of peace".
    The package of recommendations is to be discussed at an enlarged
meeting of the respective House commission with the participation of
representatives of the Presidential administration and the national
Security Council, the government, ministries and departments of the Russian
Federation, and the administration of the Chechen Republic. The meeting is
to take place in the State Duma and is to be presided over by House Speaker
Gennady Seleznyov.


Russia: Poll views attitudes to price hikes 

MOSCOW. Nov 2 (Interfax) - Nearly half of Russian citizens, 46%, think
lowering prices is the Russian government's main task at the moment.
    Just over a year ago, in September 1999, the same percentage of Russian
citizens had the same opinion, according to a report by the All- Russia
Public Opinion Center. The data is based on a poll of 1,600 respondents on
October 30. Respondents were free to select several answers, so the
aggregate percentage
may exceed 100%.
    A total of 37% of those polled said the main task now is to strengthen
the ruble (compared to 40% last year).
    Another 37% said the government must concentrate on combating
corruption and misappropriation of state property (against 22% last year).
    State control over prices was named by 35% of those polled, against 37%
last year.
    Thirty-five percent of respondents insist on adjusting wages, pensions
and bank deposits to the prices rise (as compared to 25% last year).
    Financial support for agriculture was named by 31% of those polled
(17%); more rigorous measures to strengthen law and order and combat crime
by 31% (18%); the payment of back wages, pensions and student grants by 26%
(55%) and financial support for industrial enterprises by 20% (18%).
    Seventeen percent of respondents think privatized enterprises in the
key economic sectors must be nationalized (against 14% last year); 15% said
the country's military-industrial complex and defense capability must be
strengthened (9%); 14% said peace and accord must be safeguarded (9%), and
7% said guarantees must be provided for private entrepreneurship (6%).
    Tax collection is viewed as a priority task by 7% of the respondents
(against 10% last year); measures to support the banking system and provide
guaranties for bank deposits by 5% (7%); more diversified choice of goods
in stores by 3% against 12% a year ago (the most stunning change); and
other tasks by 1%. One percent of the respondents were undecided.


Jamestown Foundation Monitor
November 6, 2000

and Ukrainians are enjoying their best year in terms of income growth since
independence. PlanEcon is forecasting 5.9 percent growth in GDP for Russia
in 2000, and, after a decade of falling output, Ukraine's first year of
positive GDP growth since independence (4.2 percent). Growth is translating
into higher living standards: A rise in real wages of 5.4 percent in Russia
and by close to 3 percent in Ukraine is projected.

Improvements in living standards are wider spread than in the past. In
Russia, rising GDP in 1999 and 2000 has been concentrated in extractive
centers, industrial regions, and, to a lesser extent, agricultural areas.
In prior years, Moscow and, to a lesser extent, Kyiv enjoyed economic
growth while aggregate output fell in the rest of the economy. In 1997,
average incomes in Moscow were four times those in the rest of the country.
In the current period, growth in Moscow has lagged the country average. In

Ukraine, incomes in Kyiv have risen, but incomes in some of the large
industrial cities of the east have risen even more rapidly.

Pensions are also increasing in real terms. More importantly, the Russian
and Ukrainian governments are paying pensions on time and eliminating
arrears. In real terms, arrears on wages in Russia have been reduced by 59
percent in the first half of the year. Because government support payments
have displaced direct subsidies to enterprises as the primary means of
redistributing incomes in these countries, prompt payment of pensions and
government salaries are key to the economic well being of rural areas. As
younger people desert outlying regions to migrate to cities, government
support payments will become increasingly important to poorer regions in
the coming years.


November 6, 2000
Keeping Truth Alive
Pravda, the Russian newspaper, is teetering on the brink of death. But a Web
site that grabbed Pravda's name is springing to life.
By Polly Sprenger (
There is little zeal these days at the headquarters of the Russian newspaper
Pravda. Editor Aleksandr Ilyin presides over the publication while sitting
beneath a picture of Vladimir Lenin, who founded the paper in 1912.

Ilyin's office, guarded by a secretary, is furnished with leather armchairs
and long lacquered tables and lined in wood paneling; Ilyin can vanish any
time he wants through a door hidden among the panels. There's enough room for
36, but Ilyin's office, like the rest of the Pravda space, is empty. There
are no reporters in the hallways, no staff at the water fountains ?" not
toilet paper in the bathrooms.

A few miles away are the offices of, an independent Web site that
has no ties to the newspaper. Here, a large, spartan newsroom bustles with
activity as about a dozen reporters, translators and computer programmers
work side by side on their computers. The editor and founder, Wadim
Gorshenin, sits among his employees.

These two businesses, the same in name but vastly different in nature,
illustrate the current state of the Russian economy. offers a glimpse of the Internet businesses that are emerging along
with nascent capitalism in the Russian market. Gorshenin sees abundant
opportunities for the site in a field unencumbered by history.

On the other hand, Pravda, which used to be the official voice of a nuclear
superpower, now lingers as a vestige of the decaying Soviet system. From his
vantage point Ilyin sees only inexorable decline.

"These days we are forced to rent the offices that used to belong to us, and
the rent rates during the last five years have increased by about 30 times"
says Ilyin, who has been at Pravda since the 1970s. "I can't say that I see
positive changes in the future. We don't have rich businessmen to put money
into our newspaper. My big concern for today is that our readers are too
poor; they cannot afford to subscribe to different newspapers, including

Pravda has seen its circulation decline from 11 million at its height during
the Soviet era to around 65,000 today. Once a daily, the paper is now
published just three times a week. Where once the paper boasted a staff of
500, with 66 correspondents across the Russian territories and 45
correspondents abroad, today no more than 70 people work for Pravda.

In 1992 Greek media tycoon Yannis Yannikos offered the paper a ticket out of
its post-Soviet financial troubles. But four years later journalists had to
fight a court action to win back the trademark after Yannikos pulled out.
Rather than encouraging its managers to seek other investments, the
experience with Yannikos taught Pravda that outside investors only brought

The online version has been separate from the newspaper since its inception.
Gorshenin and his wife Inna Novikova, who both worked for Pravda before the
1991 coup that toppled the Communist Party, launched the Web site in January
1999 when it seemed doubtful that the newspaper would be able to keep
publishing. "At that time, the Pravda newspaper had two roads in front of
it," Gorshenin says. "Some people wanted the newspaper to be the conveyor of
the Communist Party ideology, and some wanted it to be more independent. I
belong to the second line."
Seeking independence, Gorshenin set out to establish as an Internet
version of the newspaper, but without regurgitating communist ideology. He
registered the domain and began posting news on the site from his
house. With, he seeks to publish objective, insightful articles
that place factual reporting above political directive. doesn't
republish any of Pravda's stories, and Pravda doesn't print any of's stories.

Today the site attracts a half-million unique visitors a month, according to
measuring firm Spylog, and claims to be breaking even. "We don't have any
outside [investors]," Gorshenin says. "We depend fully on advertising."

Moscow, however, is rife with rumors that is not entirely
self-financing. "One version says we are still financed by the Communist
Party, while another says we are financed by Anatoly Chubais," says
Gorshenin, referring to the Russian minister of security and a critic of the
Communist Party. "When I heard the Chubais version, I called him up and said,
'If you don't want to deny [this story], then give us some money!'"

Even if does have silent backers, it still faces considerable
challenges. It's attempting to wrest control of from a domain
speculator in the United States who is offering to sell it for $100,000.
Ilyin is also disputing's right to trade on the Pravda name, but
hasn't established formal proceedings.

Nonetheless, has set out to expand. In October, it hired
translators and began publishing its news simultaneously in Russian and
English. Gorshenin and his colleagues are looking to Western financial models
to grow the company, expanding beyond news to other Web-related services such
as free e-mail, links to shopping and building Web pages for other companies.

By staking a claim now, expects to be on the leading edge of what
many say is the coming wave of investment in the Russian Internet. In June,
Andersen Group (ANDR) , an American manufacturing and investment company,
announced plans for a $350 million joint venture to provide high-speed
Internet access in Russia. "In our country, Internet companies are being
created at an astounding rate," Minister for Taxes and Charges Alexander
Petrovich Pochinok said in a press statement earlier this year.

Already, Russia has a number of consumer-oriented e-commerce companies, which
saw sales on the order of $1 million in 1999, according to Troika Dialog, a
Russian investment bank. In the first half of 2000, online sales grew to $5.7
million, a promising leap for a country with only 2.2 million registered
Internet users. The number of surfers is likely much higher, say people
familiar with the Russian market, since many dial in through hacked or
illegal ISP accounts. Victor Abramkin, a Muscovite living in London who
investigates potential Russian Internet partners for, says the
real figure is probably between 5 million and 10 million Internet users. is by no means the most successful Internet company in Russia
today. A large U.S.-financed portal has been steadily expanding, with
around 150 employees in its New York and Moscow offices. It provides e-mail,
chat, shopping channels and news., however, holds a special place in the country's history because of
its borrowed name and the heritage associated with it. Although Lenin might
be turning in his mausoleum if he knew it, what was once the mouthpiece of
the Soviet Union may have new life as a brand name in Russia's Internet


New Statesman (UK)
6 November 2000
Book Reviews - Crime and punishment. Russia is emerging from the ashes of
communism as a relatively benign force in the world. John Lloyd on the
nation's long, painful road to recovery
John Lloyd ( is the author of Re-engaging Russia
(Foreign Policy Centre, 9.95)

Midnight Diaries
Boris Yeltsin Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 352pp, 20
ISBN 0297646788

Russian Nationalism Since 1856
Astrid Tuminez Rowman and Littlefield, 400pp, 21.95

The Struggle for Constitutional Justice in Post-Communist Europe
Herman Schwartz University of Chicago Press, 348pp, 30

Economic Crime in Russia
Edited by Alena V Ledeneva and Marina Kurkchiyan Kluwer Law International,
320pp, 73

Sale of the Century
Chrystia Freeland Little,Brown, 370pp, 14.99

Failed Crusade
Stephen F Cohen W W Norton, 160pp, 15.95

Russians on Russia: Issues 1-3
Edited by Edward Skidelsky and Yuri Senokosov Social Market Foundation and
Moscow School of Political Studies, 20 for year's subscription

Neither the British and Americans, used to monolithic governments, nor even
the Continental Europeans, accustomed to coalitions, find it easy to
understand the post-Soviet Russian administrations. These tend to be made up
of politicians separated by ideological gulfs wider than those that
conventional western politics accommodates in a national spectrum, let alone
in a national Cabinet. Russian governments have ministers who believe more in
the efficiency of the free market than any other practising politicians on
earth, but who sit and work with colleagues who think capitalism stinks. In a
casual aside in his memoirs, Midnight Diaries, Boris Yeltsin mentions a head
of the domestic security service (the FSB), Nikolai Kovalev, as one who "had
an enormous personal antipathy to business and all of its representatives. He
couldn't help himself. He simply despised people with large amounts of money."

In 1998, after the rouble crashed, Yeltsin replaced the 35-year-old banker
Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister, first with Viktor Chernomyrdin,
Kiriyenko's 60-year-old predecessor, and then with Yevgeny Primakov, the
68-year-old ex-central committee adviser and ex-spymaster. Primakov also felt
an enormous personal antipathy to business people, and tried hard to persuade
Yeltsin to let him arrest some of them. Yeltsin explains how Primakov would
come to him with files prepared by the security services and, on the basis of
these, demand an official's dismissal or a businessman's imprisonment.
Yeltsin says he always demanded that the person be brought to open court, if
there was a case.

These insights make an otherwise very disappointing memoir worth reading, or
at least skimming with the aid of the index. The main polemical purpose of
Midnight Diaries, it appears, is to give a fair wind to Vladimir Putin,
Yeltsin's political "son" and now the Russian president. Finding such a
figure was, it seems from the book, the main, if hidden, theme of Yeltsin's
second (and inactive) term as president. Yeltsin sees him - alone among the
senior figures in the last years of his administration, all of them better
known than Putin - as intelligent, loyal, focused and patriotic. His one
reservation is whether Putin can develop the instinct for the popular
feeling, which, as Otto Latsis, Russia's most prominent liberal com-
mentator, remarked in a recent column, was the secret of Yeltsin's political
survival. (Yeltsin quotes Bill Clinton as saying to him at their last
meeting, when Putin was already acting president, that Putin had to "learn to
trust his feelings more".)

Yeltsin believes that Putin will continue his programme of liberal
modernisation - a belief that has not been disproved, but which looked shaky
in Putin's first ten months of governance. What is clear, however, is that
the push-me, pull-you pantomime-horse style of government over which Yeltsin
"presided" will go. Although there are different strands of thought in
Putin's Cabinet, it is becoming clearer that this is (by world standards) a
mildly nationalist, mildly authoritarian government, which will continue
pursuing a way in which Russia can become successfully capitalist.

The past ten years have not produced this last outcome - although it was the
most explicit pledge that Yeltsin made, and one of the largest themes in the
first volume of his memoirs, Against the Grain, covering his life before the
presidency. But nor have they produced the authoritarian, rabidly
nationalist, even fascist, Russia that has long been foreseen by Russian and
foreign observers alike. After a decade of unprecedented economic collapse,
social dislocation, plunging demographic trends and vast loss of
international prestige, that we can still talk of "mildly" when describing
the Russian government must be some sort of tribute to Yeltsin, who was
certainly always an anti-extremist.

But the other reason, apart from Yeltsin, is that politics have not gone that
way. The national patriots - joined from 1992 onward by a breathtakingly
cynical Russian Communist Party - were great on rhetoric. In Russian
Nationalism Since 1856, a both detailed and clear account of the progress of
the national idea through a century and a half, Astrid Tuminez offers copious
quotations from, and impressions of, the vivid figures who stalked the
landscape like postmodern Dostoevskys. The nationalist journalist Sergei
Kara-Murza wrote a piece in the far right's favourite journal, Nash
Sovremennik (Our Contemporary), which described watching television pictures
of hundreds of corpses of Russians killed in fighting in Moldova during the
independence upheavals. The report was followed by an ad for Vidal Sassoon
shampoo. Kara-Murza concluded that, in the face of such vast desire for the
good things in life, Russians could be assassinated "and the world would not
even blink".

Capturing this comment from one of the most active and readable of the
nationalist commentators shows a delicate and educated sensibility on
Tuminez's part. Her years in Moscow made her aware of how "ordinary" things
such as TV commercials - which, for westerners, are so much white noise -
were for Russians loaded with meaning and menace. It meant, too, that
Russians were transfixed by the sudden inrush of consumer culture, and
determined not to be cut off from it - another and, in my experience, very
important reason why political extremism has failed to take off.

"The most virulent nationalist ideas," writes Tuminez, "embodied in
aggressive statism and national patriotism, had limited impact on Russian
politics [in the Nineties]." Even where, as in the Kosovo conflict, a
pan-Slavic conscience was stirred in Russia, the main Russian demand was to
be consulted as a senior, rather than a junior, partner. The Russians
withdrew any implied promise of support for Slobodan Milosevic during the
Nato raids of April to June last year, and have come out, a little slowly, in
support of the election of Vojislav Kostunica as Yugoslav president. Russia
does not like US hegemony (few countries do - including, at times, the US
itself), but it knows the facts of power when it sees them.

A further contributory factor to Russia's "pacifism" is that it has been
consumed, not just by consuming, but by corruption. On one level, this has
meant that ordinary citizens have probably had less effective recourse to the
law than in the communist days - even though the Communist Party put itself
explicitly or implicitly above the law, and even though its most senior
officials (and their relatives) were at least immune from public
accountability. But what was emerging in the Seventies and Eighties was a
state that, while not fundamentally law-based, had elements of virtual
legality. That is, law-abiding citizens had some hope of protection from and
punishment of criminals; rights could be enforced and "social rights" - to a
job, pension, medical services - were, if basic, generally available, except
to those living in the more desolate parts of the poorer Soviet republics.
After the collapse, liberal and social rights were enshrined in a
constitution; but they mean less, in practice, than they did.

Herman Schwartz is an indefatigable chronicler of, and campaigner for, robust
justice systems throughout the post-communist world. In The Struggle for
Constitutional Justice in Post-Communist Europe, his narrative of the Russian
constitutional court's near-decade of existence, he provides a sane, liberal
and deeply pessimistic account. It is a story of an institution that started
well and independently, but was increasingly riven by the burgeoning
political ambition of its chairman, Valery Zorkin. He launched himself -
first tentatively, then uninhibitedly - against Yeltsin, in alliance with
Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Russian parliament (then still called
the Supreme Soviet).

A feature of the tense political season of 1993 was listening to Zorkin as he
denounced the president in long, sometimes violently hostile, interviews.
When Yeltsin and the parliamentary leaders moved towards a conflict whose
denouement was an attack by the parliamentary forces on the mayoral offices
and on the Ostankino TV station in October - and the subsequent shelling of
the parliament by forces loyal to Yeltsin - Zorkin made no attempt to stay
above a fray where legal/constitutional right and wrong were deeply murky.
Sergei Kovalev, the leading human rights advocate, thought Zorkin's court's
rulings were "dictated by political ambitions and political bias". Schwartz
makes clear, however, that Zorkin had also found in favour of Yeltsin in
previous cases, and that the constitution he had to uphold was a Soviet-era
document emended - sometimes almost daily - by the parliament.

The "second court", reconstituted after 1993, has been distinguished not by
ambition, but by a lack of it. It has avoided most burning issues: when
forced to give a ruling on whether or not the presidential decision to send
forces to Chechnya was legal (in the first Chechen war, from 1994-96), the
court underpinned the decision by saying it was based on the "unshakeable
rule that excludes the possibility of armed secession [that] exists in any
state". Indeed, a large number of the court's problems derive from the
unconstitutionality of many of the decrees and laws passed by the republican
and regional authorities.

More intimately, the judges, although badly paid, are rewarded - in the
Russian as in the Soviet system - by a range of privileges that includes
flats, dachas, cars and foreign travel allowances. These can be extended and
withdrawn at the whim of the state. "The second court is a deliberately
weakened institution with a discouraging history," writes Schwartz.

The same might be said for the office of prosecutor general, Russia's highest
legal officer. Yeltsin has appointed many officials to this sensitive post:
the one that gave most delight was Yuri Skuratov, who was later filmed in bed
with two prostitutes. The video of his antics was later aired on state
television after - according to his account - he refused to play ball with
security services. They had demanded that he drop cases whose trails led to
the Kremlin and to the president's notorious "family", Skuratov said.

The family was thought to have comprised Yeltsin's daughter Tanya, a few
close aides and the media tycoon "oligarch" Boris Berezovsky (later to be
augmented, and Berezovsky displaced, by the younger oligarch Roman
Abramovich). Yeltsin is at his most opaque when discussing the family. He
dismisses all the charges against him as "absurd". To be sure, Skuratov is
not a very engaging or convincing witness; his claims are too long, numerous
and melodramatic. But his style does not necessarily negate the content, and
that Yeltsin's "son's" first move, on becoming president, was to issue a
decree granting his "father" amnesty from any future charges seems to point
at least to a certain sensitivity. (Yeltsin says the amnesty was not his idea
and that he did not approve of it.)

Corruption in Russia has been a great and growing theme in the past decade.
In Economic Crime in Russia, Alena Ledeneva, a Russian sociologist now
teaching in London, has assembled a group of mainly academic writers who,
taken together, give less vivid but more systematic accounts than journalism
can of the scale and depth of the problem. Workers, who often do not get
paid, steal from their employers; company directors steal from the state;
generals steal from the military budget and use recruits as free labour to
build dachas; bankers construct networks of illegal money transfers and
divert state funds to their private accounts; officials charge fees for every
kind of transaction; and the mafiya grows and grows.

Ledeneva warns against the journalist-fuelled habit of seeing the mafiya as
all-powerful and all-pervasive. The Russian mafiosi are still weaker than
their Sicilian namesakes, and "less determined" than the Japanese yakuza. The
judgement of a senior British policeman, in 1993, that the Russian mafiya
would be the major organised crime element in Britain by 2000 has not been
proved correct. More to the point - and no less chilling - is Ledeneva's
comment that the criminal gangs have substantially taken over tax collection
(in the form of protection money) and the enforcement of justice. Only 13 per
cent of entrepreneurs in a recent survey, she notes, said they would go to
the police if a crime had been committed against them or their property.
Ledeneva spells out what this means: "The vacuum of civil society is being
filled with associations and networks based on the exploitative and parasitic
use of somebody else's resources and run by the logic of 'people of one's
circle', inherited from the Soviet order and incompatible with developed
civil society."

Big business - the "oligarchs" - are among the most visible characters in the
Russian morality (or immorality) play. State power and private business have
been inextricably intertwined for more than a decade. The oligarchs learnt
that they could not guarantee their wealth and power without a network of
contacts and clients in the sprawling and ever-growing presidential and
government bureaucracy, over which Yeltsin often only theoretically presided.
This meant that they "owned" ministers in a carefully graded system of status
and power, headed and, to an extent, controlled by the two court oligarchs,
Abramovich and Berezovsky.

We now have a superb piece of reportage on the central years of the
oligarchic era - which may prove, at least in its pure form, to be
coterminous with the Yeltsin period. In Sale of the Century, I must declare
an interest. Chrystia Freeland was my successor as the Moscow bureau chief of
the Financial Times, and is a close friend. But close friends can write bad
books - in which case, the best tactic is to say or write nothing. This book,
however, is a tremendous illumination of early Russian business methods: of
both the nerve and the barefaced lying; of the existential intelligence to
imagine oneself out of the Soviet system and into the capitalist one; and of
the employment of the sleaziest means to become and stay a capitalist.
Freeland's account of the central deal of the era - the oligarchs' provision
of money and media support for Yeltsin's re-election as president, in return
for the sale to them of the most precious state assets at knock-down prices -
reads, at times, like Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full.

The oligarchs poured money and media time into what had seemed to be a
hopeless campaign to get Yeltsin re-elected. Once they had their man back in
the Kremlin, they reaped rich rewards. Now, four years on, they are being
frozen out by Putin. Yeltsin writes in his memoirs of how he had wanted to
distance himself from the oligarchs, but never got round to it. So can Putin
succeed where his predecessor failed? And if so, can he avoid the tactic
turning any purge into an attack on private property of the kind Primakov,
his fellow secret service boss, wished to initiate?

One of the more comfortable victims of the collapse of the Soviet Union was
the self-styled "sovietologist". Sovietologists were numerous, especially in
the US, where state funds flowed thickly into a discipline that could both
provide information on and propaganda against the USSR. Many of them,
especially those on the left, were hugely enthused by Mikhail Gorbachev's
efforts to convert Soviet communism into a kind of social democracy. Of
these, some were devastated when he failed, and became hostile - sometimes
bitterly so - towards Yeltsin, whom they saw as the main agent of Gorbachev's

There are few sovietologists more bitter than Stephen Cohen, a professor at
New York University and columnist on the Nation. Cohen, the author of the
vivid biography Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, was lionised by the
Gorbachev circle for his evaluation of Bukharin as a communist who, had he
led the party, could have steered it away from what became known as Stalinism
into a kind of social democracy. The idea accorded with the Gorbachevites'
need to find in Bolshevism a strain, or an individual, not compromised by a
fundamental penchant for dictatorship.

In Failed Crusade, Cohen states flatly that those Americans who described
Russia, both to the world and to itself, in the 1990s - diplomats,
consultants, advisers and journalists - "committed malpractice" and that "the
results have undermined our values and jeopardised our nation's security". He
believes that most reporting and advice was based on a view that Russia had
to be driven rapidly by the west into capitalism in order to "transform [it]
into some facsimile of the American democratic and capitalist system". He
accuses the majority of his fellow sovietologists of cowardice in huddling
around a "totalitarian model" of the Soviet Union because any other would
make them suspect of pinko leanings. As a result, he argues, there has been a
misunderstanding of Russia's needs, the destruction of Russian goodwill to
the west, the undermining of democracy and the impoverishment of the country.

I had two contradictory reactions to Cohen's book. On the one hand, some of
his targets are well chosen, but on the other, I felt anger at how his
overall project was so badly skewed. He was an early observer of the
impoverishment of Russia, especially outside of Moscow, and reported it
graphically and insistently in columns in the Nation. More broadly, there is
something to his charge that those journalists who spanned the end of
Gorbachev and the first years of Yeltsin saw in the new Russian president,
and in his team of reformers, people who had virtue as well as history on
their side, and gave them the benefit of too easily quashed doubt.

There is something in this, but not too much. Journalists tend not to write
happy news and, from an early date, the columns of western newspapers were
filled with hardship stories from the cities and the provinces as the reforms
began to bite. Writing in these early years, I was constantly upbraided - by
Russians, diplomats, and business people - for being too pessimistic and
downbeat. Cohen offers examples - mainly from US papers - of mistakes, or of
what he says are mistakes. No doubt many were made. But a few selected
quotations do not amount to an indictment. Nor does he attempt a reasoned and
comprehensive survey of western, or even US, coverage, which would substitute
his own prejudice with an analytical framework. Given that he, a scholar with
a scholar's responsibilities, is accusing a profession of malpractice, he
should at least have attempted such an analysis.

But the larger failure is to see the west as an evilly disposed meddler,
foisting an ideological monstrosity on an inert society. In fact, the group
of radical economists around Yegor Gaidar, some of whom clung on throughout
most of the Yeltsin period, were both tough and independent, convinced of
their own competence and the rightness of their judgements. The IMF and other
economic advisers could not convince them to do things they would not do
(although they could and did withhold funds that the reformers needed). What
pushed the Gaidar reforms off track was ferocious opposition within the
Russian parliament from deputies who were either ideologically opposed to a
free market or reflecting the shock of their constituents when faced with
huge price increases. Add to this Cohen's inability to believe that Gorbachev
left to Yeltsin and his governments a terrible legacy - including a collapsed
economy; a ruined empire; a ring of former Soviet republics that were
sometimes openly hostile to Russia and yet were parasitic on it; a bloated
military; the beginnings of a corrupted business class; and queues that
stretched around the block.

Gorbachev was a great, if ambiguous, figure. He refrained from (most)
violence, did more than anyone else to liberate the Soviet people from
political repression and inhibitions on thought, speech and memory, and
opened up the USSR to the world. But the economy began plunging on his watch,
and it was uncontrollable by the time he was forced out of office.

Cohen thinks that most Russian politicians consider the west to be evil. On
the evidence of the third issue of the journal Russians on Russia, they do
not. Edited by Edward Skidelsky of the Social Market Foundation, and Yuri
Senokosov, the Russian philosopher, who works with the Moscow School of
Political Studies, it is a rich source for those who want to stay informed
about the intellectual-political debate. It is not comfortable reading. A
harsh realism is the dominant tone. For Yuri Levada, the veteran sociologist,
the danger from Putin is "one-man rule shading into a mobilisation society"
of the Soviet type. Vladimir Gelman, an academic at the European University
in St Petersburg, says, in a sharp essay, that "the introduction of the
institution of elections and the emergence of an electoral system in Russia .
. . have not led to democracy becoming the 'sole universally recognised

That is right, but less right than it was a decade ago. Yeltsin, absent when
he should have been active, confusing inertia with liberalism, capricious and
uninterested in much of the business of a chief executive, still succeeded in
passing on a country that had not descended into chaos or extremism. We still
cannot say how much the suffering that most Russians experienced in his years
was due to his lack of attention, or to the slow and inevitable collapse of
the world's last empire. Perhaps we shall never know.

Nor do we know, however, of a fundamentally different strategy of making the
"transition", even if this transition has lasted too long and claimed too
many victims. Cohen, who vaguely gestures towards recommending more money and
less advice (as if that were possible), certainly has no plan. One of
Russia's perennial questions, as Cohen reminds us, is: "Who is to blame?" He,
the scholar, is anxious to blame everything on Yeltsin and the west. I, a
journalist, think it is too soon to tell.


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