This Date's Issues: 4640
Johnson's Russia List
17 November 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. BBC Monitoring: Poverty and cold drive Russia's Maritime Territory teachers to strike.
2. AP: Lawmakers Want To Clean Language.
3. AP: Soviet Immigrants Bemused by Flap.
4. BBC Monitoring: Some communists advocate more criticism of
5. Dale Herspring: re warplanes buzzing US aircraft carrier.
6. From Edward Lucas.
7. The Economist (UK): Boris the Belligerent. Is Boris Fedorov a self-interested gadfly, or a champion of investors’ rights and economic reform in Russia?
8. AP: Putin Urges Tough Economic Reforms.
9. Interfax: Russian farmers conceal 10-15 per cent of bigger than forecast harvest.
10. The Guardian (UK): Using and abusing the law in Putin's Russia. As the soap opera over who ownership of Russia's two main television channels rolls on, Ian Traynor looks at the main victim of the affair - the law.
11. Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Andrei Korbut, GENERAL STAFF ASSUMES CONTROL. The System of Power Departments to Be Overhauled.
12. Washington Post editorial: Selective Persecution.
13. St. Petersburg Times: Veshnyakov Rebuffs Vote-Finance
14. strana.ru: State Duma to consider draft bill that would give past presidents and their families guarantees of immunity.
15. Obshchaya Gazeta: Vladimir Zolotukhin, Pyramid Nine Trillion High.
Pension reform threatens to turn into a grandiose swindle.]
Poverty and cold drive Russia's Maritime Territory teachers to strike
Text of report by Russian Public TV on 17th November
[Presenter] There is a new teachers' strike in Maritime Territory. A total of
30,000 are taking part in the action. Teachers say they will not turn up for
work until they are paid their wage arrears and schools are heated. In many
classrooms the temperature is close to freezing. Here is a despatch from
[Correspondent] It is unusually quiet in the schools of Artem. Even though it
is a weekday, all classrooms are closed and there are no pupils. The town's
teachers have joined the nationwide protest action and have refused to take
[Woman, speaking on the phone] No, there are no lessons today. Ring again on
Monday to see.
[Correspondent] Pupils have been phoning school since early this morning and
some are coming in to see for themselves that lessons have indeed been
[Child] We've been on holiday for an extra week.
[Second Child] We are already bored of it.
[Correspondent] But lessons may not even resume on Monday. The situation in
Artem's schools is catastrophic. The teachers, whose average wage is R1,000,
have not been paid for six months. The subsistence minimum is exactly double
[Teacher] We haven't been paid since June, so we have been forced to take
this action today.
[Correspondent] The teachers have described what is happening with the town's
education as a total mockery. Not only are they unpaid, but they have to work
in freezing classrooms. The temperature in this school is five degrees
[Celsius] and the plants that the children have been cultivating are dying.
[Woman] Just try sitting on this bench. Try it. The children couldn't sit on
these for long. No way could the children sit on these for four or five
lessons. They are cold.
[School worker] What we've got is what you might call permanent cold -
permafrost. You freeze at work and then you go home and there's no heating
there either. We've never had anything like this here before.
[Correspondent] A meeting of the town's teachers is under way at one of the
school's halls. They are very determined and no longer believe any of the
promises made by the town's authorities and have given the mayor's office a
week to pay wages and switch on heating in schools. If this does not happen,
an indefinite strike will begin. Colleagues from Ussuriysk, Arsenyev and
Kavalerovo are ready to join the teachers of Artem.
Lawmakers Want To Clean Language
November 17, 2000
By ANNA DOLGOV
MOSCOW (AP) - For years, Russians have complained about politicians who
pepper their speech with puzzling terms derived from English or Latin, words
like ``keeler,'' ``defolt,'' and ``impeech'' - or ``killer,'' ``default'' and
``impeach,'' as they're better known to native speakers.
Others bemoan the gangster-style talk of Russians, from the working classes
to public figures, who litter their language with unprintable swear words.
Now a group of lawmakers in Russia's parliament wants to outlaw both kinds of
talk: The 12 legislators have proposed a bill that would mandate the use of
Russian words instead of imports and make the use of swear words in any
public comments a criminal offense.
It is unclear how wide-ranging the bill would be, and whether it would apply
to everyone or just politicians and the media. But under the bill,
politicians talking about defaulting on debts would have to say
``nevypolneniye obyazatelstv'' instead of taking the common foreign shortcut,
``defolt.'' And references to the new ``millennium'' would be replaced by the
Russian word, ``tysyacheletiye.''
The text of the draft has not been published yet, but excerpts were provided
to The Associated Press by one of authors, pro-Kremlin Unity Party lawmaker
``Unfortunately, there are no legal norms in our current legislation on the
purity of the Russian language'' - an oversight that the bill proposes to
fix, Alexeyev said Thursday.
The legislation was proposed by Unity but also backed by several of
parliament's Communists, who are known for a nationalist dislike of imports,
linguistic or otherwise.
The bill may have a hard time winning wide backing in the house, called the
State Duma, where many lawmakers themselves resort to foreign or unprintable
words in private, and occasionally public, conversation.
But the proposal highlights some Russians' growing concern about the state of
the language of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And it comes amid increasing threats
to the language's eminence in former Soviet republics outside Russia, where
long-suppressed local tongues are taking over.
Almost daily, Russian newscasts show politicians talking about reaching
``konsensus'' (instead of ``soglasiye,'' the Russian word for ``agreement'');
about the Communists' ``impeechment'' attempt against ex-President Boris
Yeltsin; about the government's ``defolt'' on foreign loans - all words that
were once alien to the Russian ear but recently have pushed their way into
Even the Russian word for ``murderer'' is often abandoned in favor of the
English-derived ``killer,'' pronounced ``keeler.''
Many prominent government and public figures are notorious for mangling
Russian's complex grammar. President Vladimir Putin himself could become a
target of the bill: He is known to resort to rough speech at times, and at
least once crossed publicly into the unprintable. Speaking to families of the
sailors killed in the sinking of the submarine Kursk, he used an obscenity
that prompted him to add: ``May the women forgive me.''
The lawmakers' effort is not the first crusade for the Russian language.
A popular Russian radio station runs a brief program that highlights
frequently mispronounced Russian words and tells listeners how to say them
correctly. The Academy of Science's Institute of the Russian Language has set
up a free telephone service for callers who want to know how to spell or use
a difficult word. And the Russian Press Ministry has set up a literacy Web
site with dictionaries and a survey of common language mistakes in the
``Language is not simply a communication tool, but a creative force that
forms, preserves and modifies the national perception of the world,'' the
Regulating the ``national perception of the world'' was something Soviet-era
propaganda once excelled in. But in today's Russia, where state control over
everything from speech to public dress is largely a thing of the past, the
lawmakers' proposal has been received with humor rather than apprehension.
Punishment for violators of the proposed language law has not been specified
yet, Alexeyev said. He said the authors are still putting finishing touches
on the document.
Soviet Immigrants Bemused by Flap
November 16, 2000
By DAVID CRARY
NEW YORK (AP) - The first time he voted, there was only one option for
national leader: Josef Stalin. So Yevgeny Gorelik isn't dismayed by the furor
over the deadlocked presidential election.
``It's democracy,'' said the 75-year-old from Belarus, who cast his first
U.S. ballot last week. ``It's a celebration.''
For Gorelik and other immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the turmoil in
Florida highlights the contrast between freewheeling American politics and
the predictability of communist-controlled elections.
In Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood, a hub of the Russian emigre
community, the standoff hasn't induced nostalgia for the old days, but it has
perplexed many first-time voters.
``I don't understand American law,'' said Vladimir Rozenshteyn, 70, a retired
engineer from Moscow. ``All 50 states have their own laws. It's too
Rozenshteyn, like Gorelik, voted for the first time in the United States last
week. Both men are studying English at a Jewish community center in Brighton
Beach; they took time out from class Wednesday to talk about elections.
Rozenshteyn said voting was simpler and more efficient in Russia, but not
more satisfying. ``I take my ballot, I put it in the box,'' he said. ``But it
was not a choice. In Russia we didn't have a choice.''
He recalled the run-up to those elections, when Communist Party people would
roam house to house with an emphatic message: ``Vote. Vote.''
Even with no opposition party to consider, people did vote, Rozenshteyn said,
recalling turnouts announced at 99 percent. Often there were extra
incentives, he said, such as a buffet table at the polling place, stocked
with foods that might have been hard to find in the stores.
Lana Khrapunskaya, who now works at the Jewish community center, used to be a
teacher in Ukraine and worked as a vote-counter during elections there.
``I was just doing my job,'' she said. ``I knew that the votes couldn't
change the situation. It was already decided.''
Khrapunskaya, 41, moved to the United States three years ago and hasn't yet
obtained citizenship. However, she worked at a voter-education program at the
community center, helping teach new voters how to cast their ballots.
Many immigrants showed up at the polling place on Election Day only to be
rebuffed because they hadn't registered, she said. ``It was like a shock to
A fellow worker at the center, Boris Kaplan, immigrated from St. Petersburg,
Russia, eight years ago, and has learned enough about U.S. politics to
suggest the Electoral College might need to be changed.
``Those who wrote the Constitution, maybe it was OK when they wrote it,'' he
said. ``Now they have 27 amendments. Maybe they can write a 28th.''
But Kaplan, 55, embraces democracy.
``In Russia it didn't matter if you vote or not - the result is the same,''
he said. ``Here, when you see the news on TV, you understand that you can
change something with your vote.''
Ralston Deffenbaugh, a former human rights lawyer who is president of the
Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said many new
immigrants from repressive or troubled countries share Kaplan's sentiments.
``There's wonder and admiration that so many refugees look at this spectacle
with,'' he said. ``This is the most closely contested election in our
lifetimes, and life goes on normally. We don't see troops in the street. We
don't seeing business or daily life grinding to a halt.''
``In the countries that many of the refuges come from, everything would have
been closed down,'' Deffenbaugh said. ``There would have been curfews, and
people stockpiling food.''
Few new voters from the former Soviet Bloc know more about U.S. elections
than Anna Sternina, 78, a former teacher and school principal from St.
Petersburg who studied American democracy extensively.
She came to the United State in 1993, lives in Albany, N.Y., and last week
cast what she considered her first meaningful vote for the leader of her
Asked through a translator who she voted for, she replied, ``Nyet.''
``I'm exercising my American liberty of privacy,'' she explained. ``In the
Soviet Union, I was not able to do that. My whole life I have lived under
fear and under the burden of always saying different from what I'm thinking
and thinking different from what I was saying.''
EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press writer Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y.,
contributed to this report.
Russia: Some communists advocate more criticism of Putin
Text of report by Radio Russia on 16th November
[Presenter] State Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznev gave an interview to Radio
Russia, in which he admitted that there were contradictory viewpoints about
the [Communist] Party's future. The interparty discussion focuses on the
attitude to President Vladimir Putin.
[Selezhev] Everyone is speaking his mind about what the party programme will
be and how the congress will be held in December. A wide-scale party
discussion is under way. But as for the fact that Putin is the touchstone in
this discussion, yes, it is most likely so. True, many say that, since
[Communist leader] Gennadiy Zyuganov lost the [presidential] election, we
should toughly and severely slam the president who won the elections for
everything. I think this is wrong. We should criticize him according to his
deeds alone. We should not praise [him] much, too, as there are no
substantial grounds for this.
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2000
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dale Herspring)
Subject: warplanes buzzing US aircraft carrier
Moscow's claim that two of its warplanes buzzed the US aircraft
carrier Kitty Hawk sounds more than a bit far-fetched. Anyone who
has been such a ship will know that all potential threats, sub-
surface, surface and air are tracked constantly. Even more, a
carrier does not travel alone and other ships have some of the
same equipment on board. The idea that such planes could slip
through undected is silly.
Why then did the Kremlin go out on a limb and make such a
claim? There are two possible reasons: first, foreign. PUtin is now
meeting with a number of foreign officials and one could argue that
this adventure would give him a shot in the arm -- ha, ha,
Americans, you are not as good as you thought. I don't think Putin
is that dumb. The second, and more persuasive in my opinion, has
to do with internal Russian military politics. The situation within
the Russian military is close to disastrous. It desperately needs a
shot in the arm. Regardless of what the real facts were, being able
to show members of the Russian military shots of US ships -- while
claiming that the US was surprised -- can help in that regard. We
are not as bad as many in the country -- and elsewhere -- throught.
Look, we were able to sneak up on the highly touted Americans.
As far as the US Navy is concerned, it did exactly what it was
supposed to do. The planes were spoted, aircraft were launched,
but since there was no threat, they were tracked and followed until
they left the region.
All in all, it is a sad commentary on the situation within the
RUssian military that General Kornukov feels compelled to make
such a claim.
From: "edward lucas" <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2000
Subject: From Edward Lucas
To subscribe to this weekly mailing, send an e-mail to
Masha Gessen and several other people have taken me to task for saying that
Russia is less free than it was ten years ago. Maybe I overstated things,
or maybe the comparison is not sensible. What I was trying to say was
that--purely on the political front, and leaving the quality of carrots etc
aside--there was a feeling of exhilaration then which is quite absent now.
Everything seemed possible. Old Soviet mechanisms and controls were falling
down, new shoots of civil society were appearing, Yeltsin was back and
championing what sounded like democracy, captive nations outside Russia
were recovering their independence. Admittedly, a lot of that optimism
proved unfounded. It may have been superficial and misleading. But contrast
that with what we've got now: muzzled media, controlled elections, and much
worse to come.
There was a very interesting briefing yesterday from the editors of
Gusinsky's four main outlets. They are so anti-Putin and gloomy that I
sound like a wild optimist in comparison. The good news is that they seem
ready to go down fighting, although they are already suffering from an
exodus of journalists (a case of hacks leaving the sinking shit). They say
the only thing holding Putin back is fear of western criticism--which is
why it was particularly depressing to hear that Tony "Toady" Blair was
backtracking on whether to give an
interview to Ekho Moskvy--apparently, although the British Embassy denies
this--the excuse is that his media appearances have to be cleared (or
co-ordinated) with the Kremlin. Clinton did give an interview, despite a
lot of pressure from Putin. Blair at least hasn't ruled it out, and perhaps
some hostile coverage in today's British press will stiffen his jelly-like
The Economist (UK)
November 18-24, 2000
Boris the Belligerent
Is Boris Fedorov a self-interested gadfly, or a champion of investors’
rights and economic reform in Russia?
IF YOU like nothing better than a bruising argument, Russia is the place.
Boris Fedorov, a formidably articulate politician-turned-banker, is
enjoying himself hugely by banging away at the opaque and eccentric
management of three of the country’s most powerful companies.
Each of Mr Fedorov’s targets, in its way, keeps Russia together. Sberbank,
a state-guaranteed savings institution, is easily the biggest and most
important bit of the country’s financial system. United Energy Systems
(UES), the national electricity company, keeps Russia functioning, more or
less, as an industrialised country. And Gazprom is the most important of
the lot: its gas stops Russia from freezing in winter, and its export
revenues and tax payments help the state to fend off bankruptcy.
Bad management at all three also holds Russia back. Sberbank is a tool of
the central bank. Its regional branches function as cash dispensers for
local chieftains. Gazprom and UES sell energy at a loss (at government
behest). In many ways, these companies are run as the private fiefs of
senior managers. Gazprom has shifted billions of dollars of assets and cash
flow to a shadowy, and hugely profitable, intermediary company, Itera, that
many believe is linked to its bosses. UES’s chief executive, Anatoly
Chubais, seems to run his firm to political as much as commercial ends:
recently, for example, UES bought a TV station.
Mr Fedorov, who sits on all three companies’ boards as a representative of
outside shareholders, campaigns for transparent, businesslike habits. His
efforts go well beyond those of the government, which seems keener on
changing the beneficiaries of Russian big business than its management
style. But they chime strongly with the most fashionable issue among
outsiders dealing with Russia. This week, Standard & Poor’s, a
credit-rating agency, started scoring Russian firms on their corporate
governance, and the OECD published a new code of conduct for firms
operating in the country. The World Economic Forum, a Swiss outfit that
organises schmoozing sessions for the rich and powerful, said that Russian
tycoons who breached its governance code would no longer be welcome at its
annual jamboree in Davos.
The two big questions about Mr Fedorov’s personal efforts concern
self-interest and effectiveness. He is the founder and main shareholder of
a small investment bank, United Financial Group (UFG), which is the main
market-maker in Gazprom shares. These come in two kinds: depositary
receipts traded in New York, and local shares that only Russians can buy.
The second cost about half as much as the first. One of Mr Fedorov’s aims
is to create just one class of shares. There is at least the possibility
that market-sensitive information about this, or other Gazprom affairs,
could reach UFG’s clients first.
Mr Fedorov denies this with his customary mixture of charm and
forcefulness. Of course he is representing UFG’s clients, he says—their
votes put him on the board. But he shares information willingly with
outside analysts and investors (true), and does not talk to his own traders
first (harder to verify). Detractors are just jealous, he insists, because
he is getting somewhere, and because he is independent.
The latter is not in doubt. Mr Fedorov’s fierce independence—even his best
friends do not call him a team player—has all but ended his political
career. He has held public office only twice, as finance minister for a
year in 1993, and as head of the tax service for three months in 1998. By
his own account he is too patriotic for Russia’s wimpy economic reformers,
but too free-market for anybody else.
His barely veiled contempt for most of Russia’s ruling class reflects his
different origins. His own roots are a mixture of aristocracy and poverty:
his father was a caretaker in a chocolate factory, but he recently
unearthed his (Polish) family crest and the site of an estate granted to
his family by Peter the Great. Most other prominent Russians came straight
from the Communist nomenklatura, and probably think a coat of arms is what
their bodyguard wears in cold weather. Mr Fedorov’s passionate enthusiasm
for lawns, genealogy and the English countryside is a world away from the
luxury villas, bimbos and casinos that tempt most Russian bigshots.
Making a noise
Despite being well-placed to make a difference, say Mr Fedorov’s critics,
he is merely making a lot of self-promoting noise. But noise may be the
best tactic for now—if it can be made loud enough to shame politicians into
action. In none of the three companies do minority shareholders alone have
much chance of forcing management to behave differently: that can come only
through the government, which holds majority stakes in Sberbank and UES,
and is also the largest shareholder in Gazprom.
Partly thanks to Mr Fedorov, there is already progress. Sberbank recently
published accounts that are less meaningless than previous versions. UES
has revised its much-criticised plans for hasty sales of large chunks of
generating capacity. Gazprom has started regular board meetings.
Mr Fedorov points to Gazprom’s next board meeting, later this month, as a
test of the state’s intentions. “If the management says there is nothing
wrong with Itera and the government accepts it, then it is a big blow,” he
says. “If we raise the level of discussion high enough, then the government
will say it has to investigate further.” Either way, he is having fun
provoking Russia’s corporate giants, and (coincidentally, of course)
getting splendid publicity for himself and his bank.
Putin Urges Tough Economic Reforms
November 17, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Soviet-style
industrial behemoths must undertake reforms and the government must reduce
barriers to imports to survive in the global economy.
``Some Russian manufacturers will feel ill at ease under the pressure of
cheaper foreign goods of higher quality. Nevertheless, this road should be
taken, or else we will all die out as dinosaurs,'' Putin said during a visit
to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, according to Russian news reports.
Russia must open its borders to imports to integrate into the international
community, he said.
``Such unpleasant things must be said,'' he added. ``Competition is
impossible without losses.''
Putin has insisted that economic reforms must continue, and his top economic
advisers are strongly pro-free market. Still, it remains unclear whether he
will be able to overhaul inefficient industries that stalled under former
President Boris Yeltsin or clean up corruption that has crippled the economy.
On Friday, he reiterated that raising Russians' living standards is a top
priority, particularly in remote regions that once relied almost solely on
subsidies that have dried up since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
``The policy of the development of Siberia, which had been pursued for many
years, proved to be inefficient today,'' he said according to ITAR-Tass.
``Many factors which made the work in Siberia attractive for people do not
Russian farmers conceal 10-15 per cent of bigger than forecast harvest
Moscow, 16th November: The actual 2000 grain harvest in Russia will exceed
the official Agriculture Ministry forecast of 65m to 66m tonnes and will
amount to 70m to 71m tonnes, Arkadiy Zlochevskiy, chairman of the Russian
Grain Union board of directors and director-general of the OGO group of
companies, told Interfax on Thursday [16th November].
As usual, farmers will conceal an estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent of
their harvest, especially of the most needed grain, so as to carry out barter
deals and for other purposes, Zlochevskiy said. Experts believe that the 15
regions in which the harvest is 20 per cent above the annual consumption will
account for most of the unreported grain, he said.
The grain market situation in 2000 will be fairly quiet, with no dramatic
changes in prices or panic buying predicted, Zlochevskiy said. The higher
grain harvest in 2000 will result in an increase in its export, while the
emergency store will increase by 0.5m tonnes.
Russia produced 54.7m tonnes of grain in 1999.
The Guardian (UK)
November 17, 2000
Using and abusing the law in Putin's Russia
As the soap opera over who ownership of Russia's two main television channels
rolls on, Ian Traynor looks at the main victim of the affair - the law
Mikhail Lesin has a starring role in the endless soap opera over who will
ultimately control Russia's two main television channels - the Kremlin or
extremely wealthy ''disloyal oligarchs''.
One of the most telling incidents illustrating the realities of contemporary
political life in Russia occurred a few weeks ago, with Mr Lesin, minister
for the media, again taking centre stage.
He had just put his signature to a deal guaranteeing Vladimir Gusinsky, the
media mogul and Kremlin foe, immunity from prosecution in return for
agreement to surrender control of his media empire.
News of the arrangement sparked uproar and the Kremlin had to go through the
motions of upbraiding the media minister. Not that he would have to resign,
of course, after flagrantly interfering with the judicial process and
deploying the law as a political instrument.
Instead Mr Lesin was punished publicly, if lightly, at a cabinet meeting,
with the relevant bits televised and shown to the nation. Like an errant
schoolboy caught passing smutty messages to the girls at the next desks, Mr
Lesin was ordered to stand up before the rest of the cabinet class while the
head teacher and prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, issued his rebuke.
Head bowed in contrition, Mr Lesin waited to be branded a dunce and ordered
to stand in the corner with his face to the wall. Instead, Mr Kasyanov ended
his sermon, then issued a peremptory ''now, sit down'' to the naughty
minister who did as he was told.
It was an extraordinary piece of political theatre, a staged display of
power, deference, and flouting of the law. Not that Mr Lesin's signature was
worth much, anyway. This week the prosecutor's office issued an arrest
warrant for Mr Gusinsky after he failed to show up for questioning about
All the same, that a government minister could sign a pledge guaranteeing
immunity from prosecution in return for a business deal illustrates the uses
and abuses to which the law is put in Russia.
Vladimir Putin came to the Russian presidency earlier this year pledging to
establish ''a dictatorship of the law'' and a level legal playing field in a
culture where the prosecutor's office, the courts, and the police have long
been toys in the hands of the politicians.
On paper Russia is a law-based state. But then Stalin's Soviet Union was
privileged to enjoy one of the most democratic constitutions ever written.
The Lesin signature, which could not have been written without the nod from
the Kremlin, strongly suggests that Mr Putin is less than keen to see the
laws of the land observed. Either that or he is too weak to do much about it.
Sergei Pashin, a Moscow judge and a liberal who has toiled down the years to
introduce jury trials in Russia and correct rampant miscarriages of justice,
has just been fired for defending a conscientious objector and getting up the
noses of his colleagues.
When the Kremlin recently needed to appoint a loyalist Chechen mayor of the
destroyed Chechen capital, Grozny, it opted for Bislan Gantemirov, a
The last time Gantemirov held the post, he was jailed for embezzling millions
in Chechen reconstruction funds. The Putin team let him out of jail last year
because they thought he could be useful to them in the Chechnya war.
Mr Putin's own choice of language repeatedly shows scant regard for the law.
He talks of ''taking a cudgel'' to the likes of Mr Gusinsky or the other
enemy media magnate, Boris Berezovsky. He branded Andrei Babitsky, the
fearless Radio Liberty journalist operating in Chechnya, a ''terrorist''.
Some of Mr Putin's past actions, too, suggest a less than scrupulous attitude
to the law. Earlier in his career when his boss Anatoliy Sobchak, the late
mayor of St Petersburg, was wanted for questioning, Mr Putin personally
organised the mayor's escape first to Finland then France.
When the Kremlin wanted rid of a prosecutor-general investigating corruption
in the Boris Yeltsin entourage, Mr Putin, then domestic intelligence chief,
personally presented the law officer with a clandestinely filmed video
purporting to show the prosecutor romping in bed with prostitutes. The video
was then given to loyal state television and broadcast to the entire country.
The prosecutor, Yuriy Skuratov, is long gone, his place taken by a Putin
loyalist. Mr Lesin remains in the cabinet.
Mr Gusinsky and Mr Berezovsky, fabulously wealthy and unsavoury businessmen
who are the unlikeliest of martyrs in the cause of press freedom, are in
exile abroad, fearful of coming home because the last thing they expect in
Vladimir Putin's Russia is a fair trial.
November 17, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
GENERAL STAFF ASSUMES CONTROL
The System of Power Departments to Be Overhauled
By Andrei KORBUT
While Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev was closing the
session of the leading military staff on November 16, Chief of
the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin made sensational statements
on the military reform, as approved by the Security Council and
hence the president, in a closed session of the Duma defence
One sensational news followed another.
In particular, the General Staff suggested strictly
delineating the functions of the Defence Ministry and the
General Staff, because the logistics, medical, personnel and
other elements of the power departments will be streamlined and
Consequently, they should be guided by one agency, a function
that Kvashnin thinks the General Staff (possibly renamed Joint
Staff) should fulfil. The Defence Ministry should become a
political agency headed by a civilian.
Seeking to reduce spending on troop management, the
General Staff suggested reforming the Main Command of the
Interior Troops and to make the Federal Frontier Service an arm
operationally subordinate to the General Staff (Joint Staff).
This will lead to a dramatic reduction of generals in the
frontier force and permit the planning of the use of the
frontier force as a land force in the so-called special
periods. The same goes for the Interior Troops. Although the
Land Force is to be slashed by 180,000 troops, this reduction
will be compensated by the fulfilment of its functions by the
Interior Troops, transformed into the national guards and
removed from the structure of the Interior Ministry.
But the most mind-shattering proposal of the General Staff
concerns the reduction of the armed forces down to 800,000
troops and the actual introduction of the territorial
para-police method of operation of the armed forces. The
storage bases and reduced division deployed in the military
districts should become the basic centres for training the
mobile resources. This is why the 2001 defence budget doubled
allocations on mobilisation sessions.
In other words, Anatoly Kvashnin has snatched the
initiative concerning suggestions on further military
development in the country elaborated for the president. The
chief of the General Staff told the Duma deputies the final
reduction figures. By 2010, the Russian armed forces, currently
standing at 1.2 million, will be slashed by 350,000-360,000
troops. The strength of the Land Force is to be reduced by
180,000, the Navy, by 50,000, and the Air Force, by 40,000. In
2001, the Strategic Missile Force will lose missile space
defence and military space command, which are to be made
subordinate to the General Staff.
The Strategic Missile Force is to be downgraded from a service
to an arm in 2002 and incorporated into the Air Force in 2006.
According to Kvashnin, the military reform will also touch
upon other power departments. In particular, the Interior
Troops of the Interior Ministry are to be reduced by 20,000,
the Railway Troops, by 10,000, and the Federal Frontier
Service, by 5,000 troops. More than 25,000 servicemen will be
slashed in other departments, which have military units.
In addition to the military reform, the deputies and
Kvashnin also discussed ways of spending additional revenues in
the 2001 military budget. The General Staff thinks they should
be spent on fuel and lubricants and on combat training. Some
deputies think the money should go to research and defence
enterprises. Experts conclude that the bulk of deputies will
support the ideas of the General Staff during the discussion of
the 2001 budget.
November 17, 2000
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin would have the world believe that, in going
after his country's independent media, his government is just enforcing the
law. In the post-Communist rough and tumble, the argument goes, a handful of
enterprising but shady operators got access to too much wealth. These
"oligarchs," as they are known, have to be taught the lesson that they are
not above the law. The media tycoons are simply oligarchs who happen to own
newspapers and television networks.
The problem with this explanation is that Mr. Putin happens to be going after
only the two oligarchs who own media properties that have had the temerity to
be critical of him. Boris Berezovsky, who controlled a 49 percent stake of
one network as well as some newspapers, is one target. The other is Vladimir
Gusinsky, founder and part owner of the nongovernmental NTV television
network, a daily newspaper, a radio station and a weekly newsmagazine. (The
last, readers should know, is published in association with Newsweek, which
is owned by The Washington Post Co.) The other post-Soviet tycoons, who earn
far more from oil and nickel and other businesses, have yet to be bothered by
Mr. Putin's regime.
NTV and its affiliated publications have lately been the most important
sources of independent reporting in Russia--on Russian failures and brutality
in Chechnya, on government bumbling during the sinking of the Kursk
submarine, on alleged corruption and mismanagement in government. And NTV has
been the chief target of Mr. Putin's campaign. He mostly has operated at one
remove. This week his prosecutor-general issued an order for Mr. Gusinsky's
arrest on charges of fraud, and an imminent deal between Mr. Gusinsky's
company and another firm collapsed, reportedly under Kremlin pressure. Mr.
Gusinsky, living in exile, does not appear to be in personal jeopardy. But
the government seems close to achieving its goal of ruining NTV, or at least
putting it on a short leash. The cost to Russian democracy would be high.
St. Petersburg Times
November 17, 2000
Veshnyakov Rebuffs Vote-Finance Charge
By Vladimir Kovalyev
Financial tycoon Boris Berezovsky - who has chosen to remain abroad rather
than return to Russia and face questions about alleged embezzlement - has
said President Vladimir Putin used foreign financial resources to gain
election in March this year.
Under Russian election law, the use of finances from sources abroad is
But in an open letter to the media published Tuesday, Berezovsky accuses
Putin of taking the aid of Swiss companies channeled through Aeroflot Russia
Airlines - the very company Berezovsky stands accused of embezzling from, and
which he partly owns.
Berezovsky, a long-time political insider in the administration of Boris
Yeltsin, is charged with embezzling $1 billion from the airline. Though close
to members of Yeltsin's literal and figurative family, he has fallen out of
favor with the Kremlin under Putin and many analysts say he - like
media-baron Vladimir Gusinsky - is the victim of a house-cleaning as Putin
goes after the oligarchy.
In his letter, Berezovsky - who is currently in New York - answered his
accusers, writing that "the so-called Aeroflot case was made up by [former
prime-minister Yevgeny] Primakov and then re-activated by Putin, who was not
happy about my criticism of his policies."
"Putin, being a candidate for president, was not disturbed when the profit of
Swiss companies that worked with Aeroflot was used to finance [Putin's] Unity
faction and the presidential election campaign."
Berezovsky named Andava and Forus as companies that had given profits to the
Putin race, companies that Berezovsky himself had used to help finance ORT,
which was behind Putin's advertising campaign, Berezovsky said in an
interview on NTV on Wednesday.
Central Electoral Commission head Alexander Veshnyakov was asked in an
interview on Ekho Moskvy radio on Thursday if the election results would have
to be nullified should hard evidence arise that foreign funding had aided the
Putin campaign - like the sort that Berezovsky hinted at though never claimed
"That is our duty," said Veshnyakov.
"In a case where we receive documents saying that there were financial
violations during the process of a deputy's or president's elections, we have
to check it and, if anyone is guilty, we take measures to make them answer
But in this particular case, Veshnyakov was not impressed by Berezovsky's
announcement, and said that the Central Election Commission would not be
taking any steps to look into whether or not Putin financed his campaign with
"There is nothing to react to in the announcement in the interview that was
made by Berezovsky," Veshnyakov said.
Political analysts also had doubts that the Central Election Commission would
take action on Berezovsky's claims.
"It is typical in many countries - including the United States - to prohibit
the financing of election campaigns with foreign money, but nothing is going
to happen here," said Leonid Kes sel man, political analyst at the Russian
Academy of Sciences.
November 1 6, 200
State Duma to consider draft bill that would give past presidents and their
families guarantees of immunity
With a State Duma committee considering a draft bill that would give past
presidents and their families guarantees of immunity, it shall be recalled
that Vladimir Putin's first decree after his inauguration was a decree on
guarantees for this predecessor Boris Yeltsin. Since then the debate on
whether such guarantees are necessary at all or what they should look like
has been raging unabated.
It is noteworthy that the debate is of a purely political nature. It is being
fuelled by anti-democratic forces who are not so much concerned with the
guarantees themselves as with an attack on Boris Yeltsin. Besides, the
legitimacy of that decree is doubtful, considering that its provisions are
the prerogative of a federal law. It is for that reason that President Putin
has put a relevant draft bill before the Duma.
According to presidential envoy to the Duma Alexander Kotenkov, the Duma
State Building Committee has recommended that the lower house of Parliament
vote for the draft in its first reading subject to two "significant
amendments." One of them concerns the immunity of the former president and
provides for stringent restrictions on possible harassment. The other gives a
clearer formula of what "a member of the family" of the former president
In accordance with Putin's decree Boris Yeltsin gets a pension amounting to
75% of the salary of the incumbent president or about $290. He also enjoys
the life-long tenure of a residence near Moscow and has an armored Mercedes
limousine, bodyguards, a staff and a Kremlin office. Besides, he has access
to the same kind of medical service as the incumbent president. Also, Yeltsin
cannot be detained, arrested or searched.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev too received life-long guarantees
following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. However, after
an interview for the Liberation newspaper in which he sharply criticized
Yeltsin, he was gradually stripped of his perks, and his pension dropped to
$2 by the fall of 1994 as a result of growing inflation.
Sergei Filatov, former chief of presidential staff under Yeltsin, feels there
is no need to provide absolute guarantees of immunity for a past head of
state and his family. He maintains that a past president should be held
responsible if he has done something wrong. The trouble though is that
existing laws do not give a clear idea of what wrongdoings are punishable. In
any case, the less politics is involved, so much the better. Filatov is
against an immunity law being used as an instrument of revenge.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin has told ORT Television he has every opportunity to "act
in the political arena."
Russian Pension Reform Plans Examined
November 9, 2000
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Vladimir Zolotukhin, political scientist: "Pyramid Nine
Pension reform threatens to turn into a grandiose swindle
In November, the elderly once again received a slight increase in
pension payments. The old people are happy about even this symbolic
increase. Meanwhile, as Obshchaya Gazeta has already reported (see
issue 42), the government is carrying out plays for a global reform of
the pension system. In his article, political scientist Vladimir
Zolotukhin tells about what it forebodes for Russians.
Saving the drowning people
Recently, there was an announcement about the sentencing of a certain
Vladimir Kornev in Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast. The former first secretary
of the Dzerzhinskiy Komsomol gorkom [city committee] was sentenced to 3.5
years of imprisonment "for repeated fraudulent acts performed in large
amounts." In the mid-90's, Kornev founded the non-state pension fund,
"Nash Gorod" ["Our City"], to which he attracted public funds at high
rates of interest for 2 years. However, most of the investors were
unable to make use of the results of this "savings system." The guilty
party has been found and punished. But obviously, no one returned the
money to the victims.
It is all too common "new Russian" story. However, it is perceived
in a special way in light of the pension reform adopted by the government
of the Russian Federation, which is being widely advertised today. Its
essence consists of the changeover to a so-called "savings system," when
future pensions would be paid out not from the state budget, but from a
special account, into which each citizen will have to deposit money he
has earned during his entire life.
"The demographic situation is to blame for everything." That is how
the need for reform is justified by the government. According to
estimates of specialists, in 7 years, for every working person in Russia
there will be one pensioner. And this means that the old system, when
able-bodied citizens "chipped in" by means of deducting 28 percent of
their wages to support the elderly, will no longer meet the needs of the
Pension Fund. The following figures are cited: Today there are 63-64
million people employed in the economy, and 38.6 million pensioners.
But 99 percent of all pension contributions are paid by 50 million people
who work for hire and receive wages credited by the accounting office.
Meanwhile, individual entrepreneurs contribute very little to the Pension
Fund. Therefore, as the number of pensioners increases, the state will
supposedly not have the funds to pay out pensions.
The task of "saving the drowning people" will be left up to the
drowning people themselves. According to the government plan, as of 1
January 2002, employers will transfer 2 percent of a worker's earnings to
the worker's individual Pension Fund account. Every year, this share
will increase, and by 2009 it will reach 9 percent. No payments from
these accounts are foreseen until 2010--the "cash register" will operate
only for receipt of money. It is presumed that the first payments will
begin in 10 years. And during all this time, the state promises to
safeguard and increase the money which has been collected from the
population. According to the estimate of Minister of Labor and Social
Development Aleksandr Pochinok, the sum of money handed over by us to the
state will comprise 9 trillion rubles (R).
The author of this article has had personal experience in dealing
with the state on the subject of safeguarding funds. In 1987, I
concluded an agreement for savings insurance with Gosstrakh [state
insurance], according to which I was to pay out R18 a month over a period
of 5 years. This was a lot of money for our family. At the time, it
would buy 23 kilograms or sugar or 82 loaves of white bread. But, upon
making the contribution to the cash fund, I would be consoled by one
thought: In 5 years, I would receive the huge sum of R1,000, which would
be quite enough to buy new furniture. And in 1992, I really was issued
a check for R1,000. But I could not buy anything for it, because even a
loaf of bread cost R2,000 at that time.
To this story, my grandmother can add her own recount of Stalin's
post-war borrowing of funds from the public, my aunt--the tale of the
3-percent state loan bonds, my father--the legend of the safety of his
deposit in a savings account, and my daughter--the thriller about the
state financial pyramid with the GKOs [state short-term bonds].
In the aforementioned list of economic works, pension reform aspires
to the title of a best-seller. The author of such a refined (obviously,
based on "concern for the people") method of taking money away from the
population can most certainly head up the list which already contains the
names of S. Mavrodi, V. Solovyeva and many others. The fact is that,
judging by the estimates of demographers, most of this money will not
have to be returned to its owners. For example, the average life
expectancy of men in Russia today comprises 58 years of age. For women,
it is slightly higher, but still it is clear that a significant portion
of the citizens will either not live long enough to make use of the money
they have saved up, or will be able to use it for only a very short time.
Another factor: In the first 9 months of this year alone, inflation on
the Moscow consumer market comprised 15.8 percent (data of Mosgorkomstat
[Moscow City Committee on Statistics]). At such rates of growth in
prices, what will remain of my money in 18 years?
For a very long time, I have been tormented by a seditious thought:
How to make it so that, in the future, I can ensure myself not a king's
pension, but an old age free of worry. And how to not give away the
"nest egg" saved up for the last years of my life to the Pension Fund,
but on the contrary--how to hide it farther from the state. Alas,
nothing will come of this: The new pension system does not presuppose
voluntary participation. It is mandatory. And the money will be taken
away from me in the form of retirement contributions in accordance with
the full program. And in exchange, I will be told the number of the
account in which my money will supposedly be kept up until June of 2018,
until my 60th birthday. Oh, if only I should live so long!
The reform which is being undertaken will deal the hardest blow to
private entrepreneurs. They are the ones who must contribute the most
significant part of the R9 trillion to the Pension Fund. I am convinced
that most of them will shout loudly: "Stop! Thief!" And how can they
not shout, when a tax inspector comes, say, to an individual barber or
"shuttle trader" on the market, and says: "Every month, you will give
R200 to the Pension Fund!" One cannot refuse to pay--the system makes
no provision for refusal. Many of my friends who are entrepreneurs have
already included this payment in the overall sum of "production
expenditures," along with payments to public officials, racketeers, tax
inspectors, sanitation inspectors, firemen and policemen... Will such
pension reform facilitate support of representatives of the "middle
class," which has not yet gained strength? The answer is obvious.
They say that these changes have been devised as a "manifestation of
the state's concern for the well-being of its own citizens." I do not
believe it. The real goals of pension reform are obvious to me.
First of all, by having implemented reform, the state is to a
significant degree absolving itself of the responsibility for timely and
full payment of pensions to future pensioners. If suddenly a citizen
does not find in his account the money which he sent there, the state,
the government, or the President will not be to blame for this. We will
be told the name of the guilty party, and he will be punished (see the
beginning of this article). But, as always, the money will not be
Secondly, the reform takes a huge sum of money earned by the
population out of circulation. This money will not be paid to citizens
for purchase of goods, and that means inflation will decline sharply.
Thirdly, I have no doubt that specifically this money will be used
for current payments of pensions to today's pensioners. This will make
it possible to reduce social tension in the country and to remove from
the agenda the question of the Pension Fund's budget deficit.
I am not ruling out the possibility that there are other goals as
well, since such a huge sum--which does not need to be repaid to anyone
for 10 years--is rather attractive to persons who receive the right to
manage this money. The characteristic, "they are stealing!" is still
current for present-day Russia.
Most government officials admit that there are problems with
safekeeping of the money, and stress the need to protect it against
inflation. They talk about the expediency of investing this money "into
high-yield investment projects." But no one--I emphasize, no one!--is
giving any guarantees about the safety of my money.
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