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Johnson's Russia List


November 24, 2000   

This Date's Issues:  4650

Johnsons' Russia List
24 November 2000

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Boston Globe: Charles Radin, Passion, daring stir Russian poet. (Yevtushenko)
2. The Economist editorial: "Democracy" in Russia. Can President Putin tolerate it, and make it real?
3. Moscow Times editorial: Arms Trade May Haunt Russia Later. (Iran)
4. Boston Globe editorial: Arms-cutting opportunity.
5. RIA Novosti - Moscow Diary: Valentin Kunin, WASHINGTON HAS TO ADMIT THE OBVIOUS. (ABM)
6. Charles Thornton: Re:  #4646/Russia's Nuclear Safety A Sad History.
7. Konstantin Kashkin: New Economy Promises (re: Dyson, DJL 4642, Samonis, DJL 4645.
8. The Economist: How free is free?. On paper, Vladimir Putin's Russia is a splendidly democratic place. But there are increasingly ominous signs.
9. RFE/RL: Michael Lelyveld, Russia: Government Pursues Unclear Energy Policy.
10. AP: Money Woes May Close Russian Museum. (Sakharov Museum)]


Boston Globe
November 24, 2000
Passion, daring stir Russian poet
By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff

The list of towering figures of the Soviet Union who have receded into the
past is a long one. Solzhenitsyn, the novelist. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the
politicians. Other giants - the composer Shostakovich, the scientist Sakharov
- are dead.

But Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the daring young Siberian poet who shot to
international prominence in the late 1950s, just won't fade away. He bleeds
for Russia even as he criticizes it, roars outrage at corrupt democrats as
fiercely as he once confronted the purveyors of communist fictions.

In a world where cool cynicism is in fashion in politics and poetry alike, he
boils with passion and prophecy, both of which were in abundant evidence this
week when he visited Boston to discuss poetry with Boston University students
and read ''Babi Yar,'' his renowned assault on anti-Semitism, at Symphony

''Everyone complains their politicians are mediocre ... and the best people
try to avoid politics,'' Yevtushenko, now 67, said in an interview. ''Into
this vacuum jump mediocre people with sparks of energy.

''Young generations have no moral right to be squeamish about politics. Their
future, their children's future, depends on it.''

Yevtushenko says that the current political and ideological climate, in
Russia and elsewhere, is similar to the era when he emerged, and that young
people and artists are failing to grasp that this gives them a precious

When Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died, in 1953, ''The political stage was
empty,'' Yevtushenko said. ''Slim figures of young poets appeared and talked
about the conscience of the people. Our poetry woke up people's conscience.
We were not very clever, but we felt responsibility for the country, for the
people, and they reciprocated. This love was my only shield.''

The strength of that shield was tested and proven in 1961, when Yevtushenko
wrote ''Babi Yar,'' a poem that, for the first time, spoke bluntly about the
slaughter 20 years earlier of more than 100,000 unarmed men, women, and
children, most of them Ukrainian Jews.

Soviet authorities had sought to cover up the massacre because Russians and
Ukrainians had collaborated with the Nazis, and because the government policy
forbade recognizing that Jews were more severely persecuted than other
groups, or even that there was anti-Semitism among Soviet citizens.

In addition to popular support, the young poet also attracted the attention
of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who in collaboration with Yevtushenko made
''Babi Yar'' and four other Yevtushenko poems the lyrics for his Symphony No.

Poem and symphony survived despite sharp criticism and opposition from Soviet
ideologues, which included efforts to force changes in the lyrics.

Current conditions in Russia and in the West are dramatically different in
their specifics than in the de-Stalinization period, but the vacuum created
by the collapse of illusions, ideologies, and national pretenses is similar,
the poet asserted.

''We all, the world needs new philosophy, because all philosophical schemes
have been discredited by reality,'' he said. ''We need new philosophical
schemes based on the experience of the 20th century.''

That does not mean there is a need for ideology, he said adamantly, for
ideology is ''forced ideas, raped ideas. We need real idealism, realistic
idealism,'' what the late Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov called a convergence
of socialism and capitalism - minus the illusions, the mistakes, and the

Yevtushenko's blue eyes flashed and his observations on the human condition
oscillated between sly humor and dead-serious intensity as he discussed
poetry and today's Russia at BU. He talked with hands and tones as much as
with words, continually challenging the borders between speech, poetry, and

He read his latest poem, written last Saturday in Galveston, Texas. In it he
describes himself as a domesticated Nutcracker, an escapee from the ballet
who no longer amazes anyone in Tulsa, Okla., where he teaches, but who,
beneath the red uniform, still bleeds for Russia.

Works in progress include a novella, a history of 20th century literature -
''about an 8 kilos book, very good for self-defense,'' he quipped - and
innumerable poems that tumbled from his shoulder bag into an untidy-looking
pile, from which he always seemed able to pull exactly the piece he sought.
On the spot, he offered one to a reporter for publication in the Globe.

Yevtushenko said he was proud to be responsible for the repeal of Soviet-era
censorship laws, but chagrined to find, at home and abroad, that private
interests are creating commercially motivated censorship.

''We have discovered that freedom has not just one face, not just a beautiful
face,'' Yevtushenko noted, and added, ''We have discovered freedom easily
translates into promiscuity.''

After the discussion session, scores of students and professors lined up for
his autograph, and a matron named Barbara told him: ''It was a great
performance. You could be an actor.''

''I am actor,'' he replied with relish. ''I am stage director. I am
photographer. My enemies say once Yevtushenko will compose a ballet, he will
dance on stage - a prima ballerina.''

As is almost always the case, a further story follows - this one about how,
as a 7-year-old in Siberia, with both parents away fighting the Nazis, he
sang on the local train platform for food.

''Ever since then, I am not afraid to be in front of people,'' he said.
''Because of this performing, I could eat.''

The stories, the wisecracks, even the serious pronouncements seem to reveal
little of Yevtushenko's core.

But clues that human contact, human relations are everything for him pop up
when he is not performing, as during a walk along Commonwealth Avenue when he
is asked why he makes his main base at the University of Tulsa these days.

''It's like choosing a friend, or a woman,'' said the four-times-wed poet.
''I liked the people right away - cowboy families, children of space, or


The Economist
November 25-31, 2000
"Democracy" in Russia
Can President Putin tolerate it, and make it real?
NEARLY a year since Vladimir Putin took charge of Russia, as prime minister
and then president, there is an odd new mood of hope, laced with fear. The
erratic rule of Boris Yeltsin, veering wildly between gloomy inertia and
reckless action, has given way to the steely inscrutability and disciplined
single-mindedness of a tough, youthful, former KGB man. Most Russians, bar
the liberal intelligentsia, are pleased: two-thirds of them say they
approve of, even trust, Mr Putin. Order appears to be replacing drift. The
economy is perking up. Public-sector workers are being paid. The president
has promised to curb corruption. It is too soon to say that Russia is on
the mend: the country is still a mess, morally and materially. But Mr Putin
has a chance of making it better. There is, however, one fearsome caveat:
he has not yet spotted the necessary link between greater economic
liberalism and liberalism of the political sort.

Optimists highlight the economy. They see the best prospect for reforming
it since communism collapsed. Parliament and president are unusually in
tune. A fiscally prudent budget for next year has been passed-triumphantly,
in the light of past experience. The informal economy is growing fast. For
the moment, economic liberals in government have their head. A promising
new tax code is being enacted; pension and tariff reforms are on the way.
Mr Putin is bent on getting Russia into the World Trade Organisation, which
will require a raft of still more drastic reforms.

Abroad, the new president has in the main been making sense. This week in
Moscow Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, reaffirmed his faith in him as
a respectable global partner. For his part, Mr Putin seems to accept that,
if Russia is to revive, it must co-operate closely with the West,
especially in the marketplace. He concedes that tracts of Central Europe
that once came under Russian sway have irrevocably moved westwards. Talk of
alliance with China has subsided. His Russia seeks to stand tall abroad but
he is also cutting its army, and its nuclear arsenal, down to more sensible

Yet the doubts cannot be overlooked. Better economic figures, as Mr Putin
himself acknowledges, rest precariously on the sky-high price of Russia's
abundant oil and the after-effects of the rouble's massive devaluation
after the financial crash two years ago, which gave the country's creaking
industry a new gasp of life. It remains to be seen whether tax reform will
actually encourage people to pay taxes. Meanwhile, foreign investment is
still pitifully low. Leaden bureaucracy, corruption, illegality and even
violence in business are still pervasive. If the economy refuses to take
off fast, will Mr Putin turn his back on his liberal friends and revert to
the state planners of old? No one can yet be sure.

There are lingering worries, too, about aspects of Mr Putin's foreign
policy. He seems keen to accommodate the West, yet his pitch for renewed
Russian pride often comes with a kind of nationalism that unsettles his
country's neighbours and menaces non-Russians within Russia. His handling
of Chechnya remains abhorrent. His forces are more or less containing the
secessionists there; but their methods have been obscenely
disproportionate. His readiness to play with tyrants, such as Slobodan
Milosevic or Saddam Hussein, for the sake of showing that Russia can still
make mischief if it wants to, is regrettable.

Free to grow rich

Most troubling of all, Mr Putin seems to think that democracy and human
rights must be bridled if the state is to be more efficient and order
reimposed. He tends to treat critical journalists or businessmen as
enemies, even traitors. He says he wants to make Russia a law-abiding
country, but so far seems keener to use the law to squash his opponents
than to uphold it impartially: two of Russia's richest men, who wielded
vast political influence under Mr Yeltsin's presidency, are now in exile
facing prosecution at home. Mr Putin may indeed want to stamp out
corruption, but gunning only for tycoons who disagree with him looks
patently political. Mr Putin's drive to strengthen the state and his own
position, as with all incumbents of the Kremlin, risks becoming an end in
itself. In this as in many other things, his performance to date is fraught
with ambiguity.

Yet, despite authoritarian tendencies that hark back to Mr Putin's KGB
past, Russia's pluralism seems fairly secure. It is almost inconceivable
that Russia, with its burgeoning new middle class, could be stuffed back
into the totalitarian straitjacket of old. The media, the Internet, the
ability to travel, young Russians' appetite for knowledge have all wrenched
the country open. Mr Putin is intelligent and a quick learner. Will he also
learn that political pluralism and the broadly based creation of wealth go


Moscow Times
November 24, 2000
EDITORIAL: Arms Trade May Haunt Russia Later

The news that Russia has renounced a 1995 agreement with the United States
that severely restricted its arms sales to Iran appears to be part of a
broader policy that has disturbing implications for Russia's long-term
security. It is hard to interpret this announcement in any other way than as
a clear indication that Russia intends major new arms sales, in addition to
its ongoing program of cooperation with Iran's nuclear power program.

The siren's call of arms sales must indeed be hard for the Kremlin to resist.
After all, Russia's economy is weighed down by a vast and under-utilized
military-industrial complex whose products are among the most easily
exportable commodities Russia has.

And the numbers are truly staggering. In July, Russia sold $100 million worth
of military equipment to Libya. This month the country announced an arms deal
with China that is reportedly worth $1 billion. When President Vladimir Putin
visited India in October, he reportedly signed contracts for tanks, jet
fighters and an aircraft carrier worth as much as $3 billion. Experts
estimate the potential for sales to Iran runs in the billions as well. It
would take a superhuman effort for a country in Russia's straits not to be
enticed by such opportunities.

The Kremlin is right to pay little heed to American protests over possible
arms sales to Iran. The United States is by far the world's leading arms
exporter and its blatant hypocrisy in this sphere is nothing short of
outrageous. However, there are other compelling reasons why Russia should
carefully and publicly examine its arms-sales policies.

Sprinkling the Middle East, the Near East and the Far East with Russian
tanks, fighters, ships and other hardware is a recipe for violent instability
that could very quickly come back to haunt Russia and create real obstacles
to its economic development.

There can be little doubt, for instance, that an escalation of fighting in
Afghanistan or another war between India and Pakistan or armed conflict
between China and Taiwan would have dire consequences for Russia. Even if
Russia is able to avoid being directly drawn into such conflicts (and,
particularly in the case of Afghanistan, that assumption is far from
certain), they would certainly result in economic disruption and humanitarian
crises with which Russia would have to cope.

When Russia announced the China arms deal earlier this month, the Russian
general at the press conference stated: "We want to stress that this is
bilateral cooperation. It is not aimed at and does not pose a threat to any
third country." The question we want answered, though, is whether such sales
pose a threat to Russia itself.


Boston Globe
November 24, 2000
Arms-cutting opportunity

WHILE AMERICANS were caught up in the tumultuous vote-counting quarrels
by a close presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated a
momentous proposal to reduce the number of his country's strategic nuclear
warheads from 6,000 to 1,500 or fewer.

Putin's trial balloon represents, first and foremost, an attempt to make a
virtue out of economic necessity. The cut in intercontinental ballistic
missiles proposed by Putin was one of several steep, cost-saving reductions
he announced for a defense establishment that Russia can no longer afford.
Russian analysts also noted that Putin was trying to seize the opportunity to
apply pressure on President Clinton's successor, who the Russian leader
assumed prematurely would be weakened by America's electoral imbroglio.

Whoever the next US president may be, he should not allow Russia's budgetary
problems or Putin's misplaced political opportunism to become a distraction.
Moscow's need to stop squandering rubles on excessive strategic nuclear
weapons will present the president with a rare opportunity to enhance
America's security. The fact that the Kremlin has been forced to acknowledge
that Russia can no longer keep up superpower pretenses ought to awaken
America to the superfluity of its own 6,000 ICBMs.

A misleading impression was given last week when the officer in charge of
Russia's strategic missile forces, General Vladimir Yakovlev, said a grand
bargain might be possible between Washington and Moscow. He alluded to a deal
that would permit the Americans to escape the confines of the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to build a national missile defense
system and, in return, would allow Russia to maintain land-based,
multiple-warhead ICBMs that are now prohibited under the START II arms
control treaty.

Putin swiftly denied any such intention. ''The position of Russia on ABM is
unchanged,'' Putin said after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tuesday. ''We believe that the destruction of ABM would lead to serious
destabilization in the world.'' What Putin did not explain is that General
Yakovlev was hoping to save his Strategic Missile Forces from being
eliminated as a separate branch of Russia's armed services, as they will be
under the plan for military reform that Putin's national security council has
approved unanimously.

The next US president, be it Bush or Gore, would be well advised to cease
pursuing an unworkable missile defense system and to seize the opportunity
for nuclear arms reduction offered by Russia's unavoidable need to stop
wasting rubles on useless nukes.


RIA Novosti - Moscow Diary,
November 23, 2000
Valentin KUNIN, RIA Novosti political commentator

     Now that his term of office is almost over, US President
Bill Clinton decided to surprise his fellow-Americans and,
probably, the whole world.
     To begin with, he admitted that he had postponed
decision-making on the building of a national anti-missile
defense system, as he was unable to come up with any
justification for the violation of the terms of the ABM Treaty,
which Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon signed in 1972.
     Secondly. Clinton said that he was not convinced that his
country had technological possibilities to build an effective
anti-missile shield.
     All this can be regarded as a political sensation. But
such a sensation is only natural. Clinton actually returned to
the earth, so to speak, and admitted a number of obvious things
which he and his Administration tried hard to ignore for a
number of years now.
     To call things their real names, the American President
actually admitted that his attempt to bring back to life the
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as the Star Wars
Program, which President Ronald Reagan set forth back in 1983,
was just an utopia.
     In Reagan's times this idea was not translated into
anything practical for two main reasons. First, American
scientists and technical specialists did not find ways to
effectively handle the task they had been confronted by and,
second, the fulfillment of the SDI would cause an unpredictable
deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington.
     Today, almost twenty years later, the situation is
practically the same. The three abortive tests of some
components of the American national anti-missile defense
system, the latest of which was held last July, re-affirmed the
opinion of Russian and Western experts, including many American
specialists, that as of today the US has no technical
possibilities to build such a system.
     Furthermore, according to Russian military specialists,
the Pentagon's attempts to have a universal anti-missile shield
is nothing but a "great American delusion," as Russia can
oppose it by such ballistic missiles which can overcome any
anti-missile defense.
     At the same time, Clinton's revelations have not been
prompted only by the knowledge of this purely
military-technical factor. Russia's absolutely uncompromising
position with regard to the American plans has also had a
tangible role to play.
Moscow most strongly condemns such plans, because they would
inevitably undermine the foundations of the ABM Treaty. And
this Treaty has been a factor deterring a race in strategic
nuclear armaments and held out possibilities for their
reduction and for the maintenance of global security since its
signing in 1972.
     The ABM Treaty has become the benchmark for concluding the
START-1 and START-2 treaties and a number of agreements the
prime goal of which is to reduce to the minimum the nuclear
arsenals of the two nuclear superpowers. Its "modification,"
which Washington proposes, can only lead, in the Kremlin's
opinion, to the complete destruction of the strategic arms
reduction process, provoking a new round of a race in such
armaments and upsetting the existing balance of strength.
     The growing number of countries understands and supports
the position of Moscow on this problem. Lately, this has been
convincingly borne out by the results of the voting in the
First Committee of the UN General Assembly on the draft
resolution on the preservation and observance of the ABM
Treaty, which was submitted by Russia jointly with Belarus and
China. Only the US, Israel and Micronesia voted against. US
NATO allies and members of the European Union were among the 79
nations, which voted for that resolution.
     The negative reaction of these countries to American
"anti-missile games" is easy to explain. A number of NATO
capitals have been openly talking lately about the national
egotism of Washington, which strives to hide under an
anti-missile umbrella in violation of the fundamental principle
of the North Atlantic alliance - the principle of equal
security for all its members. The Clinton Administration was
unpleasantly surprised to hear French President Jacques Chirac
say during the recent Russia-EU summit that the European Union
and Russia had an "identical approach" to the ABM Treaty which
should remain unchanged. Any violation of this Treaty is
"dangerous for the future," Chirac stressed.
     Judging by everything, the resolute rejection of the US
plans by the international community has bewildered Washington.
For the first time in the past few years it has made it take a
sober look at the probable negative consequences of its idea.
Clinton's statement is more than convincing proof of this. The
American President actually admitted the flimsiness of one of
the fundamental principles of the defense policy, which his
Administration has been conducted in the past eight years.
     It goes without saying that no one can know today whether
the next US President will continue "anti-missile games" or
draw lessons from the experience of his predecessor.


From: "Charles Thornton" <>
Subject: Re:  #4646/Russia's Nuclear Safety A Sad History
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000

I was surprised to see the "Russia's Nuclear Safety A Sad History," article
in today's report from The Freelance Bureau.  Although the first paragraph
is contemporary, the interview that follows is years old.  I have searched
through my files, but unfortunately can't find the original.  However, the
interview itself was first published at least 2-3 years ago in the Russian
press.  Any thoughts on why this new FLB organization would be recirculating
it now?  I'm sorry I can't find the copy in my files, but perhaps a
colleague who has Lexis-Nexis could find it.

Certainly some of the criticisms captured in the article continue to
resonate within and outside of the government.  Many perceptions of Russian
nuclear weapons security and of the CTR program that show up in NGO and
academic literature follow some of these themes.


Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2000
From: Konstantin Kashkin <>
Subject: New Economy Promises (re: Dyson, DJL 4642, Samonis, DJL 4645

Dear David,
Just wanted to share my scepticism on wonders of New Economy for Russia...
All the best,
Konstantin Kashkin

The question of the likeness b/w Americans and Russians is indeed a
fascinating one. But I doubt it has something to do with Ms. Dyson's belief
that entering New Economy (i.e., internet-based) is "real hope for Russia"
to turn its economy around.

Ms. Dyson suggests that "in the end you just want to let the market work."
It's a nice suggestion; but isn't it what all those "dream teams" of Aslund,
Chernomyrdin, Chubais, Clinton,  Gaidar, Gore, Sachs, Yeltsin etc. etc. had
wanted slightly earlier? Didn't they fail miserably with letting the market
work in Old Economy? I wonder why.

Why would we expect Russia to succeed in New Economy? Just because companies
operating in Russia might start giving their employees PCs and Internet
access? Sounds a little bit too simplistic to me. I would like to see
somewhat more convincing arguing than Ms. Dyson's and Val Samonis' (DJL
4645) chanting on wonder promises of "digital economy" for Russia.

What Ms. Dyson demonstrates convincingly is a Big Boss Arrogance concerning
anything non-american. Once she has made this amazing discovery that
Russians look and behave like Americans (and unlike Japanese), she thinks
that Internet access will let free market work in Russia. All the more so
because the Russian company she's invested in has people and "they are
Russian and they are honest and it's pretty exciting."

Even her visit to the Russia Telecom Ministry where she realized that at
least some Russian officials were not enthusiastic about free market and
deregulation as much as she was - even this visit didn't diminish her

So, we are back to the square one, aren't we? Well, at least some of us are,
those who think - as much as their soul-mates 10 years ago - that the
solution is very simple. That free market and deregulation will eat anything
and regurgitate with a neat, this time New, Economy in Russia. Russians are
doing it again. The End of History. Once again.


The Economist
November 25-31, 2000
How free is free?
On paper, Vladimir Putin's Russia is a splendidly democratic place. But
there are increasingly ominous signs
DEPENDING on where you stand, you can be elated by Russia's democratic
progress since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, or depressed
by its shortcomings; or even both at once. By Soviet standards, Russia is
incomparably freer than it used to be. By the standards of western
democracies, there is some cause for concern; and those concerns are
growing, rather than diminishing.

Begin with celebration. After 70 years of one-party rule, isolation,
repression and bouts of mass murder, Russia is now governed not by
Communist ideologues but by rulers who profess democracy. Compared with the
Soviet era, most people can choose where they work and live, travel abroad,
meet foreigners, try to get rich without being punished for it, worship
freely, set up political parties, and complain individually or with others
about most of the country's plentiful problems. Some can even send their
children to private schools. For anyone familiar with the horrors of the
past, it is a cause for great rejoicing.

But historical perspective does not answer the most important question:
what is happening to Russian democracy now? Are its current ills-menaced
media, fixed elections, an over-mighty security service, harassment of the
opposition, xenophobia and racism, to name just a few-just temporary
wobbles, or do they mark a slide towards something new and nasty?

Start with the way Russia runs its elections. These are free and
multi-party, and it is hard to argue that the man who emerged from the last
round of parliamentary and presidential elections, Vladimir Putin, was not
the candidate most Russians wanted. Mr Putin was his predecessor's
nominated heir; but so, too, were John Major and Al Gore. What is more
worrying is that the most important bits of the media-state-controlled
television stations-were biased in his favour. As in the current batch of
local elections, the Kremlin also used the courts, the tax police, and
blackmail against its opponents: many of whom, admittedly, would have done
just the same given the chance.

The Chechen war helped too. Some Russian journalists and politicians
suspect that the authorities had a hand in the mysterious bombs, in the
autumn of 1999, that were its ostensible justification. There is no hard
evidence either way: Mr Putin calls the very suggestion "immoral". But the
media's exaggerated portrayal of the war as righteous self-defence against
international Islamic terrorism certainly helped Mr Putin, who was then an
obscure, newly appointed prime minister, to gain popularity quickly.

The Moscow Times, an English-language daily, recently published a lengthy
investigation into ballot-rigging in the presidential election in March.
Few doubt that Mr Putin, with all his other advantages, would have anyway
beaten his lacklustre Communist opponent in the run-off. But it may have
been phantom voters, forgeries and other fraud that helped him win a narrow
outright victory in the first round. According to the Moscow Times report,
about 1.3m extra voters mysteriously appeared on the election rolls in the
three months before the election; and it seems strange, to say the least,
that Chechnya went so heavily for Mr Putin.

There was no response to this report. No other news organisation picked up
the story. The few Russians who heard about it shrugged cynically. No
official bothered to refute the details. Contrast that with the current
fuss in Florida, and it highlights another problem. Democracy is not just
about elections: it is also about how wrongs are righted. In a healthy
system, politicians, courts, journalists, independent officials and trade
unions are strong and interlocking. A scandal broken by a newspaper may
well be raised in parliament, persuade the public prosecutor to take
action, lead to a public inquiry and prompt a resignation or a new law.

In Russia, these institutions, groups and processes are weak. At best, the
watchdogs bark. They rarely if ever bite. As a result, human rights are
easily abused. On paper, Russia subscribes to all the international norms.
In practice, it is often a different story.

Muffled voices

The press in Russia has all the appearance of being free. It is not
difficult to start a website, or a small newspaper: something unthinkable
ten years ago. But the more effectively you criticise the authorities, the
more difficult life becomes. In the provinces, your competitors will be
subsidised, either through cheap paper and premises, or directly. Officials
may stop talking to your journalists. You risk regular, disruptive
investigations by the tax, hygiene, fire or labour inspectors. You may be
sued for defamation, with little chance of acquittal. You may find
distributing your paper and selling advertising very difficult.

At national level, the Kremlin tolerates, more or less, independent
newspapers and magazines (which typically sell a few tens of thousands of
copies, in a country of 140m). But it does not like national television
channels that it cannot control. Two leading tycoons, Boris Berezovsky and
Vladimir Gusinsky, who had built up powerful media interests, are now in
exile, facing fraud charges. Other tycoons with equally questionable
records, but better relations with the Kremlin, are flourishing unhindered.

It is important not to exaggerate the immediate effects of this. Mr
Gusinsky's television station is still broadcasting, and still much better
than its competitors. Things are much worse in most of the rest of the
former Soviet Union. The Russian authorities' hostility to the idea of a
free and effective press is only a shadow of the treatment meted out to
publishers of samizdat in the Soviet Union. Russian media proprietors are
not comparable to the heroic dissidents of the past, who used their
television channels ruthlessly to fight their political battles. Russian
journalism is often indefensibly sensationalist and corrupt.

But as Mr Putin consolidates power, the likelihood of greater state control
of the media is growing. The government is toying with a law that would
restrict the operations of foreign-owned media in Russia, such as the
Russian language services of Reuters, a news agency, or Radio Liberty, a
broadcaster financed by the American government. In a healthy democracy,
annoying the authorities is how many journalists make their careers. In
Russia, it is a good way to become unemployable; many of Mr Gusinsky's
journalists hastily left for other jobs when he got into trouble.

The authorities' motives in all this are mixed. Partly it is just
convenience, or the belief that such measures are temporarily necessary.
Partly it reflects Russia's continuing obsession with national security. A
critic is often portrayed as a saboteur, and one with foreign friends is a
spy. When he was president, Boris Yeltsin muffled the xenophobic reflexes
of the Soviet system. Under Mr Putin, they seem to be returning.

As head of the FSB (the domestic-security successor to the Soviet KGB), Mr
Putin bluntly dismissed environmental groups as fronts for foreign
intelligence gathering. He has also worried publicly about "unauthorised"
contacts with foreigners. It has now become quite risky to be a foreign
researcher or businessman in Russia if your field of interest includes
anything that a spy-catcher could possibly construe as secret. Recent
practical examples include civil-military relations, arms exports
andpollution by the armed forces.
The victims are still very few: one American businessman is currently on
trial on flimsy-sounding espionage charges. A handful of Russians are in a
similar pickle. Grigory Pasko, an environmentalist, told Japanese
television about the navy's mishandling of nuclear waste. After a court
decision on November 21st, he faces a new bout of pre-trial detention.
Another American businessman is also currently in jail, on trial in a
different case. Mr Pasko's charge that the "spy mania"' is sweeping the
country sounds overblown. But once you start blaming outsiders for your
problems, it may be difficult to stop.

Second-class citizens

This whiff of xenophobia is matched by racism. Although Mr Putin had a
well-publicised lunch with the doyen of Soviet-era Jewish refusniks, Natan
Sharansky, anti-Semitism in Russia provokes rather mild official
objections. In September, masked right-wing extremists stormed into a
Jewish school in Ryazan, terrifying the children and breaking furniture.
The police have done next to nothing. The recently elected governor of the
Kursk region, Alexander Mikhailov, said his fight against Jewish "filth"
was supported by the president. The Kremlin rebuked him, but merely for
"foolishness". Mr Putin's own local representative said he was convinced
the remarks were not Mr Mikhailov's "ideological position".

Jews in fact enjoy considerable religious freedom in Russia. For other
religions, especially smaller and foreign-sounding ones, official
obstruction is an increasing nuisance. The Salvation Army, for example,
which feeds around 6,000 hungry Russians every month in the winter, has had
to waste tens of thousands of dollars in legal fights over registration,
and the Catholic church has had trouble getting visas for its foreign clergy.

For ethnic minorities in Russia that lack the Jews' powerful allies abroad,
life is often difficult. In official rhetoric, the words "Islamic" and
"terrorist" are interchangeable. Efforts by non-Russian nationalities to
preserve their languages and cultures risk denunciation as "separatism".
When the Chechen war started, thousands of Chechen residents of Moscow were
simply rounded up and thrown out of the city. Anyone with a dark skin (as
plenty of foreigners have found to their cost) risks harassment from the
police that can range from a tiresome document check to detention, or worse.

The Chechen war itself, now 15 months old and with no end in sight,
overshadows all other problems with Russia's democracy. Of course,
democracies do fight wars, sometimes very bloody ones. Anyone wanting to
stress the uniqueness of Russian crimes in Chechnya needs to bear in mind
comparisons both geographical (Turkey and the Kurds) and historical (France
in Algeria), as well as the Chechens' own kidnap industry.

For all that, Russia's conduct of the war, especially in the treatment of
prisoners and refugees, has been revolting and counter-productive. A
lengthy new report by Human Rights Watch catalogues the tortures inflicted
on Chechen detainees, including women, young people and the elderly. Many
Chechens are arrested and abused for no better reason than to extract a
ransom. "If it were possible to gain access to Chechens detained in Russia
one would probably have a list of political prisoners running into the
thousands," says Alex Anderson of Amnesty International, a pressure group.

The underlying problem is that Russia has not considered-or really even
started discussing-what sort of country it wants to be. Is the Russian
Federation basically a Russian empire, with a few non-Russians living in it
as second-class citizens? In that case, conflicts with resentful or
ambitious non-Russian nationalities are all but inevitable. Or can it
become a multinational country where Russian just happens to be the main
language and culture, but where Tatars, Kalmyks, and others, who make up
more than a sixth of the population, can feel equally at home and
respected-like, say, Latinos in America or the Swedish minority in Finland?

That might well have a better chance of working eventually, although even
the most advanced and liberal democracies, including the United States,
have made quite a hash of assimilating people of different races. In any
case, most Russians, used to being the unquestioned top dogs in the Soviet
Union, find it hard to take ethnic minorities seriously.

A second big shortcoming of the Russian political system highlighted by the
war in Chechnya is the weakness of civilian oversight of the armed forces.
Although the elected Duma, through its committees, and the media have some
power to oversee and comment on abuses, the army, in many respects, is a
law unto itself. Corruption is rampant.

This may improve a bit under the ambitious military reform plans announced
earlier this month by Mr Putin. But-as with many other reforms-improvements
are coming thanks to narrowly conceived orders from the top, rather than
the popular will channelled through the political system. Mr Putin's main
complaint about the army is that it is wasteful and ineffective, not that
it is brutal and lawless.

Reform of government is a similar example. Again, it is commendable that
this is happening at all. Clearly, something had to be done about the
corrupt and incompetent people running Russia's provinces. Mr Putin's
answer, shortly after taking power, was to appoint seven prefects, each in
charge of a dozen or so regions. These men, five of them with a military or
security background, are meant to keep a strict eye on the governors,
especially when they have imposed local laws that differ from federal ones.

The seven presidential representatives are proving quite good at biffing
local tyrants. But they are showing little interest in putting something
more democratic in their place. There is little contact with the public, no
encouragement of independent media. The biffing is very selective: the city
of Moscow, for example, has managed so far to maintain its unconstitutional
system of residence permits, a huge source of graft and unfairness. The
result may prove more orderly, and better for business. But it will not
make Russia's regions more democratic.

Few checks, few balances

All Russia's problems of human rights and democracy come back to three
things: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. None works as
well as it should. Parliament passes laws in a hurry, and has neither the
ability nor the will to call high officials to account. State officials
abuse human rights (either on their own, or on orders from on high) and
work with remarkable slowness and disorganisation. The courts almost
completely fail in their role as the ultimate safeguard of freedom and order.

Russian parliamentarians largely see their job as voting the way they are
told (or paid), rather than dealing with their voters' grievances. The only
post-Communist countries that have managed to build a decent state
administration and the rule of law are those which had them before 1945.
Russian bureaucrats behave very rationally: almost everywhere, the rewards
for honesty and efficiency are tiny. So are the penalties for graft and

Judges are ill-trained, badly paid and under heavy outside pressure. Almost
all criminal cases end in a conviction. There are jury trials in only nine
of Russia's 89 regions. Sergei Pashin, a prominent judicial reformer and
judge, was sacked last month for criticising the conduct of the trial of a
conscientious objector, and for giving out his telephone number during a
radio programme. The Moscow board of judges said that his behaviour was
"not fitting".

There is very little sign of this changing. If anything, the consolidation
of power in the past year has made it worse. "We wanted a stronger state to
make bureaucrats obey the law, but Mr Putin sees a stronger state as
meaning a stronger bureaucracy," says Ludmila Alexeyeva, who heads a big
human-rights organisation in Moscow.

The blame rests not only with Russia's rulers. It also reflects public
attitudes and behaviour. First, Russians themselves, quite understandably,
think that many of their laws are bad and feel no compunction about
breaking them. Second, they have little faith in formal ways of
complaining. As a result, they seldom use them. "We have no tradition of
living by the law," says Mrs Alexeyeva. "Faced with a problem, people try
bribes, personal connections or force."

After decades of totalitarianism and centuries of autocracy, it would be
silly to expect Russia to sprout a strong civil society and independent
institutions like mushrooms. There are plenty of countries that are
unpleasantly tough with pushy foreigners, ethnic minorities and the
political opposition, but have a reasonably stable and competent government
and manage to get a bit freer and more prosperous every year. Many Russians
would think that sounded pretty good. It may well be what Mr Putin wants
too. If he delivers it, many foreign countries would heave a sigh of relief.

Yet Russia's current economic stability is perilously balanced on the high
oil price. Most of the economy is still largely in ruins after the Soviet
collapse and botched reform. Some Russians have been speculating that the
government may be planning to move to a "mobilisation economy" in the event
of a downturn, which would mean a much greater degree of planning and
controls. If that happened, political as well as economic freedoms would

Second, the danger of silencing critics is that bad policies continue and
frustration mounts. Harassing greens, rather than listening to them, means
even less chance of salvaging Russia's devastated environment. The
difficulties put in the way of independent trade unions will keep Russian
industrial workplaces in an awful state. Ethnic minorities that see their
language and culture dying tend to start letting off bombs if no one
listens to them.

Authoritarian temptations

Third, heavy-handed habits tend to grow on rulers, especially in countries
where the bureaucracy is very incompetent. In general, Mr Putin seems keen
to avoid the appearance of authoritarianism. "Our big hope is that Mrs
Putin likes having tea with the Empress of Japan," jokes one of Mr
Gusinsky's editors. "He won't do anything that risks a scandal abroad."
Certainly Mr Putin delights in international respectability. On specific
issues, such as Chechnya, he seems to choose to brazen out criticism from
abroad, rather than overrule his own hard men. But he shows some sign of
learning on the job, and, even if he has authoritarian instincts, they may
be checked by experience.

In sum, there is a respectable case for optimism about Russia; but there is
a case for pessimism too. When push comes to shove-at a time, for example,
of national emergency-the gains of the past ten years will have to
guarantee Russian democracy. "It is not so gloomy, because of what happened
in the last ten years," says Mrs Alexeyeva, a veteran of Soviet-era
dissent. "Society can defend itself." Cross your fingers.


Russia: Government Pursues Unclear Energy Policy
By Michael Lelyveld

Statements by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov suggest that the
government will resist efforts to raise electricity tariffs as a means of
implementing energy reforms. But the government's policy is far from clear
at a time when massive investment is needed to keep Russia from becoming an
importer of electric power.

Boston, 23 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian government has sent a
confused message on the direction of energy reforms, based on the
statements of the country's highest officials in recent days.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signaled a go-slow approach
during a government meeting to consider changes to the Unified Energy
System electricity monopoly, known as EES.

Kasyanov appeared to endorse some form of restructuring for EES, saying,
"To leave the sector as it is -- that is the road to nowhere." Kasyanov
added, however, that "the long-term development of the power generating
system is possible only if we raise tariffs, but this doesn't suit us."
According to the Reuters news agency, he explained that "The social
sensitivity of reforms in this area is extraordinarily high."

The comments seemed at odds with remarks made by President Vladimir Putin
four days earlier. Speaking to a group of Siberian governors in
Novosibirsk, Putin was quoted as saying that electricity tariffs should be
determined by the market rather than the government. Putin said, "Tariffs
are set individually for different groups of consumers, and it so happens
that the tariffs of some consumers are subsidized by others."

"This must not be allowed. We should set order here," Putin said.

A basic contradiction appeared even within Putin's own statement. His call
for imposing order seemed to be the opposite of letting the market decide.
Under a market system, rates would be allowed to rise or fall in response
to the forces of supply and demand. Electricity tariffs for consumers would
also reflect the costs of fuel. Those costs in turn would be influenced by
international prices for fuel or the rates that other countries pay.

For years, the Russian government, and the Soviet one before it, have
protected domestic consumers from such forces. Although gas and electricity
tariffs have risen this year, they still remain heavily subsidized. Gas is
sold within Russia for $10-15 per thousand per cubic meters, for example,
at a time when Russia is paying $38 to buy the same volume from
Turkmenistan. Russia's Gazprom has charged an average of $96 per thousand
cubic meters for exports outside the CIS this year.

Russian consumers are unable to pay such high prices for gas or electric
power because the Russian economy has been based on cheap energy for so
long. But the system has reached its limit, causing EES chief executive
Anatolii Chubais to press for restructuring the electricity system.

Chubais wants to separate the network's generating facilities from its
power grid, privatizing them and selling them off as separate companies to
raise cash and spur investment. According to Chubais, unless $5 billion is
invested in Russia's electricity system, the country will have to become an
importer of power by 2005.

But minority shareholders are concerned that the generating companies will
be sold too cheaply, before the government faces the tough political task
of raising electricity rates. Kasyanov's statement suggests that the
government would like to avoid that burden. Putin's comments leave the
issue up in the air.

The question is of critical concern to Russia's consumers. Power has been
cut off this year to individual users, entire districts and even military
installations for failure to pay electricity bills.

This week, Russia's human rights commissioner, Oleg Mironov, asked the
prosecutor general's office to examine the legality of the shutoffs, saying
that some citizens have lost electricity service, simply because they are
connected to the same lines as other users with arrears. The complaint
raises doubts about the ability of EES to implement its plans fairly.

But perhaps the greatest deficiency of the government's approach to the
energy reform problem is that it does not seem to be ready to set goals or
a timetable for achieving them.

Both Gazprom and EES will reportedly seek new rate increases next year. But
Kasyanov's remarks indicate that any approval for tariff hikes will be
based on political rather than economic factors. If that is the case, the
Putin government may prove no more successful in dealing with the problem
than the governments of the past.


Money Woes May Close Russian Museum
November 24, 2000
MOSCOW (AP) - The artifacts of Soviet repression and post-Soviet human rights
abuses displayed in Moscow's Sakharov Museum may soon have nowhere to hang.

The museum, dedicated to dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei
Sakharov, will close its doors next month unless it finds new funding, its
director warns. And its painful, powerful exhibits - letters Sakharov wrote
from internal exile, barbed wire from gulag labor camps, sketches by children
made homeless by Russia's current war in Chechnya - will be packed away.

Although its content is highly political, the museum's woes don't stem from
government pressure. The problem, director Yuri Samodurov says, is that
Russia lacks a culture of corporate giving, wealthy private donors and
experience managing private, nonprofit organizations.

Also, as memories of Soviet horrors fade amid the time-consuming turmoil of
today's Russia, fewer and fewer people seem interested in what the museum has
to say.

``We are searching with all our strength for Russian investment, but it's not
working,'' Samodurov said. ``In Russia there is no experience and no
tradition of nongovernment museums. We are discovering for ourselves how to

So far, to museum workers' dismay, that has meant they rely almost entirely
on U.S. and other foreign funding to tell a very Russian story. Since opening
in 1996, the Sakharov Museum and human rights center has failed to find
Russian donors and has exhausted $1.7 million in start-up money that came
largely from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A U.S. diplomat in Moscow said this week that a new grant was under
negotiation. If approved, it would provide about a six-month reprieve but
would not solve the museum's deeper problems, the diplomat warned.

Other non-governmental organizations in Russia pin the museum's troubles on
the country's legal system: It does not allow companies to write off charity
donations on taxes, and it taxes NGOs more heavily than in the West.

Also, the museum's political bent and U.S. backing may be scaring domestic
investors away, Samodurov said.

The museum, in an elegant two-story building that once housed a police
station, documents the dissident movement and mass persecutions by the Soviet
secret police. Displays include an execution order by dictator Josef Stalin
and guitars used to accompany protest songs.

It also highlights more recent abuses, particularly in two wars in Chechnya
over the past decade. Human rights groups accuse Russian troops in the
breakaway republic of summary executions of civilians and prisoners and of
looting Chechen homes - charges Russian commanders deny.

``Our society and government even now don't understand what we are rejecting
of our past, and what we are preserving. Our museum has a very clear position
on this point, and it is not popular,'' Samodurov said.

Meanwhile, memorial ceremonies for the millions killed or exiled in Soviet
repressions shrink every year as labor camp survivors die off and former
democracy activists focus on surviving in the new Russia.

``Many people today view (the museum) with indifference,'' said Yuri Zapol,
president of Russia's biggest advertising company, Video International.

Zapol was among the few executives who responded to the museum's appeals for
corporate help. He has helped publicize its predicament and has promised a
personal donation. But there are no plans for the company to sponsor the
museum, he said.

``In the history of Russia there weren't that many people on the scale of
Sakharov. Unquestionably, our society needs such people,'' he said. ``But not
everybody is of my opinion.''

Sakharov, a physicist who helped develop the Soviet nuclear bomb, later
became an eloquent, outspoken critic of the Communist regime. In 1979, he was
banished to the city of Gorky. Released by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in
1986, Sakharov helped spearhead the democracy movement in the waning days of
the Communist regime before he died in 1989.


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