|Plain Text - Entire Issue
1. Baltimore Sun: Douglas Birch, Built on the bones of history.
St. Petersburg: As it nears its 300th anniversary, the great Russian city looks
artistic achievements that dazzled and political events that shook the world.
2. The Guardian (UK): Michael Billington, Terrorism. (play review)
3. New York Times book review: Leon Aron, 'Khrushchev': The First De-Stalinist. (re KHRUSHCHEV The Man and His Era by William Taubman)
4. Boston Globe book review: Nicholas Daniloff, The Russian front. Biographer Taubman makes the case that Krushchev used bluster and belligerence to hide
5. The National Interest: Susan Eisenhower, Burrying Nikita.
6. AFP: US seeks Russian oil despite widening rift over Iraq: analysts.
7. The Electronic Telegraph (UK): Tom Parfitt, We'll not vote in your referendum, Chechens tell Russia.
8. Financial Times (UK): Robert Cottrell, Lunch with the FT: Mikhail Fridman.
9. Rosbalt: The 'Putin Plan' or a New Political Era. (inteview with Andrei Fyodorov, director of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy)
10. Moscow News: Viktor Loshak, Cracks in the "White House." The split within the Cabinet laid bare its inability to pursue credible reform.
March 16, 2003
Built on the bones of history
St. Petersburg: As it nears its 300th anniversary, the great Russian city
looks back on artistic achievements that dazzled and political events that
shook the world.
By Douglas Birch
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - This is, the Russians say, "a city built on bones."
Constructed by forced labor on a malarial swamp, St. Petersburg has been
witness to revolts, massacres and momentous political assassinations. It is
dotted with mass graves containing tens of thousands of victims of war and
Over time, a brooding spirit settled over the city, and Russian artists
absorbed it, with extraordinary effect. They endured their grim history and
in turn produced some of the world's greatest literature and music, dance
"In Russia, artists don't watch tragedies; they are part of them,"
Vladimir Lenyashin, an art historian and curator with the Russian State
Museum, which owns the world's largest collection of Russian art. "They
participate in history."
As so often before, St. Petersburg finds itself at a pivotal moment in that
history. It is struggling to emerge from the destructive effects of the
Soviet years, at a time when much of Russia's financial means is
concentrated in Moscow, the capital.
In May, Russia is celebrating the city's 300th anniversary, and St.
Petersburg has been using the attention to fix itself up and attempt to
regain its place in the world's imagination. Even cities in far away
America have joined in, as with Baltimore's Vivat! St. Petersburg festival.
(Baltimore still has time to regard St. Petersburg, at the Walters Art
Museum, with an exhibit of the Russian avant-garde and of Faberge animals
through May 25, and at the Baltimore Museum of Art, displaying the art of
the Ballets Russes through May 4.)
St. Petersburg, though faded from the wear of the Soviet years, still has
dazzling reminders of its 19th-century splendor, when it was the fulcrum of
wealth and power in this vast nation. Its golden spires and delicate pastel
facades are knit by graceful stone bridges and canals. It is a vast
open-air museum, whose neglected palaces suggest the lost elegance of a
Even during the tears and terrors of the Soviet era, St. Petersburg was a
haven for many dissident artists. "This great suffering gave a huge impetus
to art," says Pavel Dolsky, a 24-year-old graduate of St. Petersburg's
famous Repin Institute of art. "A large number of masterpieces appeared,
thanks to that suffering."
Founded in 1703, the city owes its existence to the will of one person,
Czar Peter the Great. Gifted, creative and cruel - he had a son tortured to
death - Peter was determined to remold medieval Russia in the image of the
West, regarded by many of his countrymen with suspicion and disdain. St.
Petersburg represented, in wood, brick and stucco, that stubborn ambition.
The czar loved Amsterdam, and he impulsively decided to re-create the Dutch
city's system of bridges and canals in a frigid swamp, despite tremendous
Peasant laborers and artisans were summoned from all over Russia. By some
estimates, 30,000 of these forced laborers lost their lives in the first
few years, mostly from malnutrition, exposure and disease.
To cut costs, the first builders improvised, using stucco slapped over
masonry or woodwork to imitate marble, a practice that continued through
the centuries. The material requires constant repair and helps give the
city its feel of perpetual decay, of melancholy grandeur.
Gradually, Peter diverted talent and resources from Moscow, Russia's
ancient seat of power, moving Russia's capital here in 1712. Few Russian
nobles cared to live in such a remote corner of the empire, but the czar
After Peter's death in 1725, St. Petersburg's fortunes waned, briefly, as
Russia's new rulers retreated to Moscow. But it resumed its growth under
Peter's daughter, Elizabeth, who became czarina in 1741 and held court in
her father's city.
Catherine, the German bride of Czar Peter III, conspired with her lover to
murder her husband - becoming czarina in 1762. Catherine the Great was the
first Russian monarch to live in the gingerbread Winter Palace, which she
decorated with more than 2,500 paintings, 10,000 drawings and tens of
thousands of other baubles. Her hoard formed the core of the collection of
the world-renowned Hermitage museum.
The empress also founded the Russian Academy of Arts in 1757, to provide
artwork for the palaces under construction in the expanding capital.
In the 19th century, St. Petersburg would reach the height of its imperial
power - and begin to rot from within.
Secret revolutionary societies sprang up, discontented with the absolutist
Russian monarchy. In December 1825, young officers who had fought
Napoleon's army in Europe - and been exposed to liberal political ideas -
staged a revolt in St. Petersburg's Senate Square. The uprising was crushed
by canon fire. The rebel leaders were hanged.
When a group of unarmed workers peacefully marched on the Winter Palace to
present a petition seeking reform in January 1905, troops fired on them,
slaughtering many. The outrage triggered a series of strikes, riots and
mutinies - culminating in a worker's revolt that December, which was
crushed by czarist troops.
By 1914, St. Petersburg was Europe's fifth-largest city, and one of the
world's biggest ports, with a population of more than 2 million. It was
Russia's commercial, financial and industrial center - as well as a
cultural and artistic hothouse.
This was St. Petersburg's pre-World War I "Silver Age." It also
start of World War I.
Finally, it was here the Russian empire crumbled. In March 1917, St.
Petersburg's workers struck for more bread and larger food rations, and
troops refused to intervene. Czar Nicholas II abdicated to a reformist
provisional government. With the Bolsheviks' October Revolution, the
Communists seized control.
The city's name changed twice: first, in 1914, to Petrograd, which sounded
less German during the war, and again in 1924 to Leningrad, to honor the
triumphant Bolshevik leader.
But the city lost more than its name. The Bolsheviks moved the capital back
to Moscow in 1918, perhaps distrustful of St. Petersburg's history as a
hotbed of political discontent. Later, they denounced the art of the Silver
Age as "the most shameful" in Russia's cultural history.
From then on, they decreed, Russia's artists should serve the needs of the
state and the militantly mediocre tastes of the Communist hierarchy.
Artists fled to the West. Others moved to Moscow, the new seat of power.
"It ceased to be the capital of the country and lost its best people, its
self-respect, its money, its power and, finally, its glory," wrote Solomon
Volkov in St. Petersburg: A Cultural History.
In the 1930s, Josef Stalin began his great "terrors" - purges that
the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of party and government officials,
and the exile or imprisonment of millions of others.
Just last August, researchers from a human-rights group hunting in the
woods outside St. Petersburg discovered what they suspect are the graves of
39,488 people executed by the Soviet secret police during the "Great
Terror" of 1937-1938.
During World War II, Leningrad's 2.9 million citizens were besieged by
German forces. For 900 days, they struggled to survive on diminishing
rations of food and fuel. Some 200,000 Leningraders died of starvation and
cold in January and February of 1942. Altogether, at least 641,000 perished.
In the midst of the suffering, an orchestra performed composer Dmitri
Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, called Leningrad, in the beleaguered city.
By the time the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, St. Petersburg's economy
had become heavily dependent on obsolete Soviet factories. Suddenly they
were idle. Wages weren't paid. People went hungry again. Crime soared as
rival gangs competed for power. The city, along with the rest of Russia,
plunged into an era of political and economic chaos.
Today, the economy has improved somewhat. UNESCO, the United Nations'
cultural organization, has designated St. Petersburg as a World Heritage
site. International organizations and large corporations, recognizing the
peril, have spent millions shoring up the city. The World Bank has lent $31
million for the project.
Russia's current president, Vladimir V. Putin, grew up in a communal
apartment here and has taken a keen interest in his hometown's fate. The
Moscow government launched a major effort two years ago to spruce up the
city in time for its 300th anniversary party in May.
But a staggering amount of work remains to be done, with most of the city's
graceful mansions in need of renovations.
Likely, St. Petersburg's buildings and monuments and art treasures will
survive. But what of its cultural legacy?
Much talent disappeared during the Soviet era, says Mikhail Shvydkoi,
Russia's Minister of Culture, but St. Petersburg never lost its spirit as
Russia's European capital. Its artists, even today, are struggling to make
their mark on stages, art galleries and bookshops around the world, just as
generations before them did.
"I think they have a chance," Shvydkoi says.
The Guardian (UK)
March 15, 2003
Royal Court, London
By Michael Billington
A play with this title has an obvious resonance right now. But the
extraordinary thing about this deft and brilliant piece by Siberia's
Presnyakov Brothers is the way it extends the definition of "terrorism" to
embrace most of modern Russian life. Structurally, the play is rather like
a violent version of La Ronde; tonally, its mood of dazzling apocalyptic
farce suggests the novels of Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller. The action
starts, in Hildegard Bechtler's ingenious design, with a simulated airport
bomb-scare, to which the Theatre Upstairs audience becomes a helpless
witness. And although the next scene, involving sadistically adulterous
love-play with a woman shackled to a bedpost, initially seems like a sudden
jump-cut, we soon work out the hidden connection. In fact, each of the
play's six scenes, including an office-suicide and infighting amongst the
city's military police, appears to be a discrete demonstration of
terrorism: the artfulness lies in the incremental portrait of a world in
which abnormality has become the norm.
What is startling, however, is the surreal humour that these two brothers
bring to their task. You see this at its wildest in the third scene, where
it is discovered that an office-worker has hanged herself in the relaxation
room: an event that is treated more as an irritant than a tragedy,
especially by the resident psychologist who can't get at the dog leash he
desperately needs. Even the shocking revelation, in a later scene, that the
bomb-disposal police are voyeuristic accident-perverts is capped by the
bizzare detail of their boss crooning Happy Birthday, Mr President in the
style of Marilyn Monroe.
This is a play about the breakdown of society in contemporary Russia. What
astonishes is the cool, sardonic wit that the Presnyakov brothers bring to
their task. And this is beautifully realised both in Sasha Dugdale's
translation and in Ramin Gray's poker-faced production. Instead of treating
the characters as Gogolian grotesques, Gray assumes that violence is now an
everyday fact of Russian life.
Thus in one scene Di Botcher and Sheila Reid play two old biddies sitting
on a playground bench; and the casualness with which the former passes the
latter some poison-tablets to despatch her son-in-law speaks volumes. Even
in the bedroom scene there is something disturbingly nonchalant about the
way Paul Hilton transforms the erotic games he is playing with Suzan
Sylvester's trussed-up victim into dangerous reality. And Alan Williams as
both the dog-petting psychologist and the singing military policeman makes
the absurd seem hilariously plausible. Russian society may be in disarray,
but, on the evidence of this and the recent work of Vassily Sigarev, a
sense of dislocation yields first-rate drama.
Until March 29. Box office: 020-7565 5000.
New York Times
March 16, 2003
'Khrushchev': The First De-Stalinist
By LEON ARON
Leon Aron, a resident scholar and the director of Russian studies at the
American Enterprise Institute, is the author of a biography of Boris Yeltsin.
The Man and His Era.
By William Taubman.
Illustrated. 876 pp. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. $35.
He was one of Stalin's most trusted henchmen, up to his elbows in blood --
yet he dealt Stalinism, the Soviet system and the world Communist movement a
wound from which they would never recover. He brutally crushed the Hungarian
revolution -- yet he opened the gates of the gulag for millions, and
authorized the publication of Solzhenitsyn's ''One Day in the Life of Ivan
Denisovich.'' He built the Berlin Wall and put nuclear-tipped missiles into
Cuba -- yet he ordered deep unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces and
initiated the first detente with the United States. He was crude, dogmatic
and merciless; also generous, public-spirited and forgiving.
He was Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev: a top Soviet leader since the
mid-1930's, the dominant member of the post-Stalin leadership (1953-57) and
the Soviet Union's unchallenged dictator-ruler between 1957 and 1964.
Although eminently worthy of a serious biography, Khrushchev until now has
been the subject of rather thin Kremlinological exegeses. In ''Khrushchev:
The Man and His Era,'' which took almost two decades to research and write,
William Taubman, a professor of political science at Amherst College, finally
gives us what we (and Khrushchev) deserve: a portrait unlikely to be
surpassed any time soon in either richness or complexity.
Taubman has made use of materials from over two dozen Russian and American
archives, of more than 70 personal interviews (including ones with
Khrushchev's children, grandchildren, in-laws and other relatives), of
published and unpublished memoirs, innumerable newspaper and magazine
articles, even Soviet newsreels. The list of published books and articles
consulted by the author extends across 13 pages. This volume, with its brisk,
enjoyable narrative, succeeds in every sense: sweep, depth, liveliness,
color, tempo. Each chapter shines with mastery and authority.
A conscientious biography of a worthy subject cannot help being a portrait of
the times, and Taubman's book fully lives up to the ''and his era'' of the
subtitle. It is a multifaceted study of the key political and economic forces
of the first 47 years -- almost two-thirds of the total -- of the Soviet
civilization: from the revolution of October 1917, which found the
23-year-old Nikita (with only four years of parochial school) a skilled
metalworker in the heart of Russia's coal mining region, to Oct. 13, 1964,
when, returning from a Presidium meeting in the Kremlin, he pushed his
briefcase into his son's hands and sighed: ''It's over. I'm retired.''
In between, as he climbs up the increasingly bloody pole to the pinnacle of
Soviet power, we follow Nikita Sergeyevich through virtually all the key
events of Soviet history. Some he witnessed, some he helped to shape: the
doomed struggle of the anti-Stalin opposition inside the party during the
1920's; the horrors of Stalinist ''collectivization''; the Great Purge of
1936-39, when, as a member of tribunals, he sent thousands to torture and
death; the wholesale arrests, deportations and executions that he supervised
in western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin divided Poland in 1939; the Kiev
and Kharkov disasters during World War II and the Stalingrad triumph, in all
of which he played a role as Stalin's political emissary to the armies in the
Khrushchev was one of the three Soviet leaders closest to an increasingly
insane and paranoid Stalin during the post-World War II years (the two others
were the secret police chief Lavrenty Beria and Deputy Prime Minister Georgy
Malenkov). Following the tyrant's death in 1953, he first disposed of the
universally feared Beria (who was arrested and shot as a ''spy'') before
proceeding gradually to outmaneuver Malenkov and another top rival, Stalin's
foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov.
Then came February 1956 and the weightiest of Khrushchev's claims to a place
in history (and one of the 20th century's greatest surprises): the ''secret
speech'' to a party congress detailing Stalin's crimes. There were, to be
sure, obvious tactical reasons for it: Khrushchev lessened or obscured his
own very formidable culpability in the regime's war on the Soviet people, and
he also undermined his rivals Molotov and Malenkov, whose complicity in the
purges was demonstrably greater than his own. Yet power struggle
considerations cannot fully account for Khrushchev's de-Stalinization,
especially since he resumed his attack on Stalin in broad daylight at the
1961 party congress, four years after all his competitors had been
Even though he limited his description of Stalin's crimes solely to Communist
victims (passing in silence over millions of ''class enemies'' and other
categories), Khrushchev knew how enormous the stakes were. ''Stalin
personifies the multiple victories of the Soviet people,'' one Presidium
bigwig objected. ''Examining possible mistakes . . . will raise doubts about
the correctness of our whole course.'' Another top leader lamented: ''If
these are facts, can we really call this Communism? This is unforgivable.''
The four-hour speech was listened to by several thousand people in ''deathly
silence.'' The shock was palpable. Two weeks later, after he read the speech,
Poland's Communist dictator Boleslaw Bierut had a heart attack and died.
Within months, workers rose up in Poznan. Then the Hungarian revolution
Taubman provides a number of explanations, all plausible and helpful, as
clues to Khrushchev's de-Stalinizing impulse, but characteristically he
respects the reader and refrains from ex cathedra pronouncements. This is as
it should be: here was an instance of human mystery of the highest order, of
an inextinguishable spark that ignites an irresistible human inclination to
choose, albeit often inconsistently and by degrees, good over evil, liberty
over slavery, truth over lies. Even decades of brutalization and degradation
by so supremely talented an ''engineer of human souls'' as Stalin proved no
match for these imperatives of the human spirit.
Those who successfully plotted against Khrushchev in October 1964 cited many
perfectly valid reasons for his removal: the failures in agriculture, the
embarrassment and loss of face caused by his boorish behavior abroad
(including the famous shoe-banging episode at the United Nations), the
''adventurism'' of the Cuban fiasco, the man's rudeness and arrogance. Still,
to the neo-Stalinists who would rule the Soviet Union for the next 20 years,
Khrushchev's cardinal sin, without doubt, was the secret speech. Summoned six
years after his ouster to the Party Control Committee to be berated for
publishing his memoirs in the West, a very sick 76-year-old Khrushchev told
his accusers: ''I too was infected by Stalin, but I also freed myself from
him, whereas you did not.'' As late as 1984, 13 years after his death,
Politburo members railed against the ''scandalous disgraces'' Khrushchev had
committed ''in relation to Stalin.'' ''He soiled and stained us,'' one said.
''He dealt an irreversible blow to the positive image of the Soviet Union in
the eyes of the world,'' another added.
Even in defeat Khrushchev proved dangerous to them -- perhaps, in the end,
more dangerous than ever. For his demise demonstrated to a young and
up-and-coming Mikhail Gorbachev, along with his liberal alter ego, Aleksandr
Yakovlev, a key lesson of Soviet (and Russian) history: liberalizations from
above are subverted by the resistance of functionaries (and the
liberalizer-in-chief is inevitably overthrown in a palace coup) unless a
project of liberty is protected by an alliance with the Russian people, who,
like any other people, thirst for truth, justice, dignity and trust.
When in power, Gorbachev and Yakovlev pursued that alliance by permitting the
intelligentsia to tell people the truth in newspapers, magazines, books and
television programs. Indeed, Gorbachev acknowledged his debt to Khrushchev
after he became general secretary in 1985 by scheduling the first party
congress over which he presided to coincide, 30 years to the day, with
Khrushchev's secret speech. There followed the firestorm of glasnost, and
within three short years (1988-90) the entire legitimizing mythology of the
Soviet party-state went up in smoke, leaving behind a charred empty shell
that Boris Yeltsin kicked aside in August 1991.
Khrushchev had a hand in it all, and his life represents a hefty slice of
history, admirably served up in this monumental biography, one that is likely
to be definitive for years to come. In the end, it is hard to summarize this
man better than Taubman does: ''complicit in great evil yet also the author
of much good.''
March 16, 2003
The Russian front
Biographer Taubman makes the case that Krushchev used bluster and
belligerence to hide his insecurities
By Nicholas Daniloff
Nicholas Daniloff worked in Moscow as a news correspondent from 1961 to
1964 and from 1981 to 1986. He now teaches journalism at Northeastern
In April 1964, the dean of American correspondents in Moscow reported to
the world's press: ''Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev will celebrate his
70th birthday this Friday, apparently in good physical shape and more
secure in his power than any of his predecessors in history.'' In September
1964, Henry Shapiro filed another dispatch to United Press International
asserting that ''never has the mantle of power rested more securely than it
does today on Nikita S. Khrushchev.''
Yet only weeks later, on the night of Oct. 15-16, I found myself reporting,
along with Shapiro, the unexpected overthrow of Khrushchev. Three minutes
after midnight, Tass announced Khrushchev had retired ''in view of his
advanced age and deterioration of his health.''
The erroneous reports by my respected bureau manager show how far removed
from Kremlin intrigues we foreign observers really were. When Shapiro was
challenged later by Kremlinologists about his dispatches, he replied that
the palace coup was a surprise to Khrushchev himself.
Well, not completely a surprise, as William Taubman, professor at Amherst
College, has ably demonstrated in his brilliant biography, ''Khrushchev: A
Man and His Era.'' Khrushchev, in fact, received half a dozen hints his
colleagues were conspiring against him. I am sure that this work, nearly 20
years in the making, will be accepted for years to come as the definitive
biography of the Soviet leader.
Drawing on a vast array of sources, Taubman has produced a most readable
account of the inner workings of the Soviet and US governments as they
jockeyed against each other during the Cold War. He has interviewed
Khrushchev's son Sergei at length; talked with key Soviet bureaucrats;
consulted official US, British, and Soviet documents; read numerous memoirs
by Russian personalities since censorship was abolished. As a former Moscow
correspondent, I kept flipping to the footnotes - there are nearly 2,500 of
them - for more intriguing information.
So why did Khrushchev secretly try to plant medium-range missiles in Cuba,
thus convincing the Kennedy administration it might have to go to war to
remove them? Taubman considers the various explanations: to protect Cuba;
to use Cuba as a launching platform in overcoming the Soviet missile gap
with the United States; to create a bargaining chip to force the West out
of West Berlin. Taubman's analysis produces yet another explanation, which
was not so obvious: Khrushchev needed a major triumph - a ''Cuban
cure-all'' - to bolster his position.
By 1960, Khrushchev sensed he was in trouble. He appalled his aides in May
of that year when he walked out of the summit conference in Paris with
President Eisenhower because Ike refused to apologize for sending U-2 spy
planes over Russia. His assistants were shocked when he banged his shoe on
the desk at the United Nations in the fall of 1960. Other setbacks
followed: worsening relations with Beijing, a ruinous grain harvest in
1963, failure to consult the collective Communist leadership.
The richest contribution of Taubman's book, however, is not the
reexamination of the missile crisis but the insider revelations. What
emerges is that Khrushchev, whom the world perceived as a powerful but
mercurial bully, was actually a deeply insecure man who believed the best
defense was a strong offense.
Born into a peasant family in 1894, Khrushchev agonized in his youth over
which course to take: education or power. He longed for education, but
chose power because it offered quicker successes and he proved good at
politicking despite its risks.
One mistake Khrushchev covered up was that he was more attracted to the
Mensheviks' moderate path than to the hard line of the Bolsheviks. At one
point when his career was taking off, Khrushchev confessed his error to
Stalin. The Soviet dictator, who had developed a fondness for his
''liubimchik,'' or pet, accepted the confession.
An element of the career that has always needed explaining is why
Khrushchev did not perish in Stalin's bloody purges of the 1930s. Two
factors played a role, Taubman concludes. The first is that Khrushchev
became friendly with Stalin's wife in the 1930s and believed that she
passed on good recommendations to the boss. The second was that Khrushchev
was masterful in suppressing his own guilty feelings in executing Stalin's
purges as Moscow party chief, from 1934 to 1937, and later as Communist
Party chief in the Ukraine, beginning in 1938.
Khrushchev also proved a master of intrigue. On Stalin's death, on March 5,
1953, he organized a conspiracy to arrest Lavrenty Beria, secret police
chief, whom he suspected of wanting to seize power after Stalin. In 1957,
he defeated the attempt of his colleagues to overthrow him in what became
known as ''the Anti-Party Affair.''
The bravest and most reckless thing that Khrushchev ever did was to reveal
and denounce Stalin's crimes at the 20th Communist Party Congress, in 1956.
''The Soviet Union never fully recovered, and neither did he,'' writes the
The speech, cunningly put together with last-minute additions by
Khrushchev, enforced the Soviet leader's authority over his colleagues. But
it also raised questions: why were the top Soviet leaders, including
Khrushchev, complicit in Stalin's crimes? Why had they not protested
Stalin's abuse of power at the time? How could they now rule with blood on
Taubman concludes, ''Khrushchev's tragedy was that the path of power
ultimately made demands upon him that he couldn't meet, and others that he
shouldn't have, with the result that in his desperate search for respect,
he ended up lacking respect for himself.'' Khrushchev's judgment on himself
is more eloquent. ''I had no education and not enough culture,'' he told
the Soviet playwright Mikhail Shatrov before he died, in 1971. ''So I acted
inconsistently, I kept rushing about this way and that. I offended many
Khrushchev: The Man and His Era
By William Taubman
Norton, 876 pp., illustrated, $35
The National Interest
By Susan Eisenhower
William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W.W. Norton,
2002), 768 pp., $35.
For the baby boomers among us, Nikita Khrushchev was the personification of
the "Soviet bogeyman", the nuke-wielding, shoe-banging premier who warned
that he would bury us-we the grandchildren. I met him on my grandparents'
Gettysburg sun porch in 1959, one afternoon in the midst of the Camp David
summit. Khrushchev was affable, attentive and full of plans for the
President's forthcoming trip to Moscow. I remember well his Santa Claus
shape and his deep belly laugh; but I also remember being both intrigued
and terrified by the things associated with him, from the screaming
newspaper headlines to the duck-and-cover drills I endured at school.
Despite the menace Khrushchev seemingly posed to us in our youth, he has
since that time been painted in more benign terms. In some circles he is
seen as someone who tried to bring reform and enlightenment to the USSR
before his time; a well-meaning man who just could not bring his hardliners
along, in part-some have argued-because the United States would never slide
him a break. Those who have gone wobbly on the image of Nikita Khrushchev
will find new stability in William Taubman's biography, Khrushchev: The Man
and His Era. Taubman has done a masterful job of reminding us not only how
complex a man Khrushchev was, but also how much blood he had on his hands,
and what a wild ride it was in international relations while he was in
power. Taubman takes us from Khrushchev's humble beginnings as the son of
an illiterate peasant family through the end of his political
career-covering both domestic politics and international relations. There
is much fertile ground to cover, and no shortage of crises to dissect.
In extraordinary detail, Taubman describes Khrushchev as cunning, conniving
and freewheeling; a man of stubborn nature and primitive instincts. He is
also well described as a self-made careerist with overwhelming ambition: at
one moment, emotional and sentimental, the next, prideful, boorish and
unyielding. One comes to see why Khrushchev was eventually ousted from the
Kremlin. It was not just because his reformist bent failed to produce real
reform, or that his secret speech to the 20th Party Congress was out of
step with the hardliners in post-Stalinist Russia. Rather, he was deposed
at the height of his power because even his most faithful subordinates
regarded him as a loose cannon. It is hard to imagine that any government,
no matter how despotic, could withstand any more irresponsible political
adventures like the legendary ones over which Khrushchev presided: from his
campaign in agriculture-which included his disastrous courtship and
patronage of Trofym Lysenko (who ultimately destroyed biology in the
USSR)-to provocative but wrongheaded approaches on how the USSR could
achieve strategic advantage, which contributed significantly to the U-2
debacle and the Cuban Missile crisis.
Throughout, Taubman makes a great deal of Khrushchev's contradictory
instincts and his duality-giving us psychological insights to interpret
Khrushchev's most outlandish and barbaric acts, and emphasizing the guilt
he carried with him in consequence. He suggests that Khrushchev was both a
man bent on personal survival and one possessed by self-deception. After
several hundred pages, however, Nikita Khrushchev does not seem as
complicated as Taubman suggests. He comes across not only as a master
politician during his meteoric rise, but as a master manipulator as well,
knowing perfectly well what he was doing while he was doing it. The problem
was that Khrushchev could not anticipate the repercussions of his actions
over time, and no one had the courage to warn him. And as he gained ever
more power-eventually absolute power-he spun out of control and became
unstoppable, uncheckable and, of course, unpredictable.
Khrushchev's rise to the top was not inevitable. Taubman shows us that as
the USSR moved from the post-revolutionary period to the early Stalin
years, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for who survived and who did
not. Much speculation has therefore been advanced about Khrushchev's role
in the purges and his subsequent acquisition of power. In 1992, General
Dimitri Volkogonov, Yeltsin's man in charge of the Russian archives, told
me that I would not find anything much on Khrushchev's crimes in the
archives. "Of all the Soviet leaders", Volkogonov told me, "he was the only
one to destroy documents incriminating himself in the mass killings."
Despite the paucity of records on this score, Taubman manages a fairly
damning indictment of Khrushchev's role in the Stalinist purges, as First
Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party and then as First Party Secretary
in Ukraine. For example: "On June 27, 1937, the Politburo set a quota of
35,000 'enemies' to be seized in Moscow and Moscow province, of whom 5,000
were to be shot. Khrushchev himself asked that 2,000 former kulaks who were
now living in Moscow be liquidated in partial fulfillment of this total."
After returning to his native Ukraine as party boss in 1938, Khrushchev
served on troikas-the infamous three-man committees-that had the ability to
impose the death penalty without appeal. When asked if Khrushchev signed
death warrants, Politburo member V.M. Molotov replied: "Of course he did. .
. . Otherwise he wouldn't have been moved up. Any intelligent man could see
that." According to Molotov, Khrushchev sent "54,000 people to the next
world as a member of the [Ukrainian] troika."
Taubman writes that the way Khrushchev survived being purged himself was
"to outdo [everyone else] in carrying out Stalin's order[s]." In June 1938,
for instance, at the 14th Ukrainian Party Congress, Khrushchev declared:
"The struggle is still being carried out too weakly. . . . We must . . .
mercilessly smash spies and traitors. And we shall smash them and finish
them off." The next March in Moscow, Taubman adds, "[Khrushchev] boasted
about having extirpated 'vermin' during his first year in Ukraine."
Khrushchev himself surmised that he might have survived the bloodiest years
of Soviet history because Stalin liked him and relied on him for other
reasons. He believed that he had pulled a "lucky lottery ticket" while at
the Industrial Academy in the early 1920s. There he had come to the
attention of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's beautiful but modest wife, and
"it was because of her that Stalin trusted me", he recalled in his memoirs.
Despite Stalin's goodwill, Khrushchev never intervened to save a friend or
a trusted comrade from execution. Nor did he seek to avert the unjustified
sentence that sent his daughter-in-law to the gulag. After serving prison
time, she was relegated to a penniless life of shame and deprivation. Even
as his authority grew, Khrushchev did nothing much to help her, even though
he was convinced of her innocence. Taubman is probably on target, too, when
he writes about Khrushchev's love of power and attention: "While the
thirties were the worst of times for many of his compatriots, they were the
best of times for him."
What, then, is one to make of Khrushchev's famous secret speech at the 20th
Party Congress in 1956 in which he denounced Stalin's crimes? According to
Taubman, Khrushchev "insisted he believed in Stalin and in the guilt of
Stalin's imagined enemies. He denied he understood what was going on until
after Stalin's death." At the same time, Taubman reasons that
Khrushchev had powerful political reasons not to come clean. To go beyond
his famous attack on Stalin in 1956 and admit his own guilt would have
undermined the whole Soviet regime, let alone his own position. In
addition, he felt a personal guilt so profound that he couldn't bear to
admit it, even to himself.
While such psychological assessments are hard to resist, one could also
make a powerful case that whoever came to power after Stalin's death would
have had to denounce Stalinism within the decade, if only because of the
sheer numbers of victims and victims' families, and evidence of his
criminal behavior everywhere. Unless the killings were to continue on the
same scale, sooner or later some acknowledgement of Stalin's crimes would
have been required for the continued sustainability of the system. As
Even Khrushchev's most Stalinist colleagues favored at least some
de-Stalinization, if only to prevent their own power struggles from being
resolved by violent means. Still, all feared their complicity could be used
Less than ten months after his attempt to de-Stalinize, however, Khrushchev
surprised Western and domestic audiences with pro-Stalinist sentiments.
Taubman suggests that this was not just a tactical retreat but that it also
"reflected Khrushchev's inner doubts." Maybe so; but it may also have been
Khrushchev's brand of pragmatism, the sort of political calculation that
inspired the secret speech in the first place.
Whatever the case, Khrushchev's revelations at the 20th Party Congress had
a seismic effect in the USSR and clearly played a role in destabilizing
Eastern Europe, contributing significantly to the Hungarian uprising. Other
roller coaster rides were still to come....
Khrushchev's capacity to set tops spinning in Soviet domestic affairs was
matched in foreign policy, the U-2 incident of 1960 being a classic
example. No sooner had the American spy plane been shot down than the
Soviet premier worked himself up into a frenzy, turning the planned Paris
summit into a bust. It is noteworthy that among the most clear-eyed about
Khrushchev's motives for this have been the Russians, including some
members of the Khrushchev family.
In 1990 I attended a conference in Moscow on the Eisenhower-Khrushchev
years. During the meeting I suggested that Khrushchev had been manipulative
when he fomented an international crisis out of the U-2 flights. Perhaps, I
suggested, the Soviet premier wanted to use the incident as a way of making
sure that Richard Nixon would not be elected as president six months later.
My comments were derided by my Western colleagues at the conference, but
our Soviet counterparts thought it utterly plausible that Khrushchev had
used the affair for this purpose. Indeed, some were certain that it was
Khrushchev's intention to embarrass fatally the President and his Vice
President, who was at the time in the midst of a tight presidential
campaign. At the same time, like many others in the West, I had assumed
that the American administration had committed a provocative and
unforgivable act in the eyes of the Soviets. But at the same conference one
Russian researcher told me that the U-2 program had been nothing more than
the unilateral expression of the 1955 Open Skies proposal, and that it had
been a Soviet mistake not to seize on the American proposal at the time.
During the U-2 crisis, however, Khrushchev managed to position himself as
the victim. He personally chose to make the U-2 incident a public
spectacle, even though it would have been far more consistent with Soviet
interests for him to keep the evidence in his pocket to use to his
advantage at the summit. While he professed to be shocked and hurt when
Eisenhower admitted knowledge of the flights, saying it was a betrayal of
trust and friendship, he relished the opportunity to take advantage of it.
Sovietologist Priscilla Johnson covered Khrushchev's public statements on
the U-2: "Disappointment at a friendship gone wrong appeared to be the
leitmotif of his remarks", she said. "Asked if he would still greet
Eisenhower as his guest in the USSR, Khrushchev replied, 'What shall I say?
Put yourself in my place and answer for me. . . . I am a man and I have
I doubt how much trust and friendship really had to do with it. Khrushchev
had known that there were U-2 flights over his country for some time, and
had never lodged a formal protest. While the overflight on this occasion
might have been too close to the upcoming Paris summit to be advisable,
Khrushchev chose to make this a crisis for his own reasons-and not
necessarily to shore up his sagging domestic support. According to Taubman,
the vast majority of Khrushchev's advisors were unhappy with his handling
of the matter. A candidate member of the Politburo snorted: "All I know is
there have always been spies and there always will be." Other Soviet
advisors thought Khrushchev decided to junk the summit because it would
fail to resolve the Berlin issue and meet the political expectations he had
set for it.
Apparently, Khrushchev decided to wreck the summit while in flight on his
way to Paris. There, French President Charles de Gaulle, who had only
recently seen the Soviet premier on an earlier trip to France, recalled
that Khrushchev was "a character so changed in identity and meaning as to
belong to the realm of Russian fiction." Even Khrushchev recalled, "I was
all worked up, feeling combative and exhilarated. As my kind of simple folk
would say, I was spoiling for a fight." After more than 45 minutes of
tirade in which Khrushchev harangued Eisenhower for everything, he demanded
that the conference be put off for at least six months, by which time, it
was understood, Eisenhower would no longer be president.
The Americans were grim and aggravated, the British upset, and the French
annoyed. In a wonderful passage, Taubman describes de Gaulle chiding
Khrushchev for making too much of the overflights: "'Yesterday that
satellite you launched just before you left Moscow to impress us over flew
the sky of France eighteen times without my permission. How do I know that
you do not have cameras aboard which are taking pictures of my country?'
"'As God sees me', replied the allegedly atheist Khrushchev, 'my hands
"'Well then how did you take those pictures of the far side of the moon
which you showed us with such justifiable pride?'
"'In that one I had cameras.'
"'Ah, in that one you had cameras'", de Gaulle replied.
In the end, the Soviets were the biggest losers in the U-2 affair. The U-2
flights had assured that the United States did not have to rely on Soviet
bluster about their capabilities, thus making it possible to keep U.S.
military expenditures in check. What did the Soviets get? "Khrushchev had
broken with Eisenhower, ruined Soviet-West German relations (at least for
the time being), alienated East German intellectuals, who had hoped for
improved ties with the West, and encouraged Walter Ulbricht to continue
scheming to create a confrontation over Berlin", Taubman tells us. Years
later, Anastas Mikoyan, Khrushchev's closest associate, remarked: "Because
our anti-aircraft missile finally accidentally shot down the U-2,
Khrushchev engaged in inexcusable hysterics. . . . He simply spat on
everyone. . . . He was guilty of delaying the onset of de tente for fifteen
Perhaps Khrushchev realized he had overstepped the mark sooner rather than
later. I was surprised to discover, on a visit to the Eisenhower Museum and
Library, that as early as the fall of 1960 a high-level Soviet gift had
been presented to President Eisenhower. Not long after, when John J. McCloy
met Khrushchev at Putzinda in 1961, "Khrushchev talked to me about a
possible visit of [Dwight D. Eisenhower] to the Soviet Union in spite of
the effect of the Powers' incident on earlier plans for a visit", he wrote
my father, John Eisenhower. "He was sure it would bring forward a strong
indication of goodwill which the Soviet people and its leaders had toward
your father." Of course, the trip never happened, and Khrushchev's marathon
temper tantrum during the U-2 crisis was left, untempered, to erode
confidence in his foreign policy abilities.
William Taubman has written a wonderful book-fair, balanced and thoroughly
researched. The facts of Khrushchev's political life notwithstanding, he
has made it hard not to feel nostalgic for Nikita Khrushchev, a colorful,
quotable and in some cases downright entertaining figure. We almost feel
sorry for Nikita, a man who loved power, and fell, oh so far and fast, from
the pinnacle of it. Sent into house arrest, Khrushchev was bereft and
unsettled, a dissident of sorts, worrying about the KGB and complaining
about his treatment. His health failing and his psychological state frayed
from years of isolation and inactivity, he told Soviet playwright Nikolai
Shatrov that his biggest regret was that, "My arms are up to the elbows in
blood. That is the most terrible thing that lies in my soul."
I wonder how we would view Khrushchev today if the full Soviet archives had
survived-and how much remorse he would have felt had he managed to stay in
power. Nevertheless, he did express regret, and that in turn engenders our
compassion. Who could not feel for a dying old man who contemplates
eternity understanding that the brightest part of his own legacy was
directly enabled by the darkest part of it? He rehabilitated the very
victims he helped to purge. Even if he was an atheist, Khrushchev must have
wondered in his last lonely days if making a bargain with the Devil was
such a good idea after all.
US seeks Russian oil despite widening rift over Iraq: analysts
March 16, 2003
Despite growing differences over their stance on Iraq, the United States
still sees Russia's vast oil supply as an essential means of weaning itself
off its dependence on Middle East oil, analysts said.
During a visit to Moscow last week, US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
glossed over warnings by US diplomats here that Russia's fierce opposition
to US war plans in Iraq could disrupt economic partnership between the two
"We are pushing Russian and US companies to work together," Abraham
Wednesday, in remarks that contrasted sharply with recent warnings by the
US ambassador to Moscow that Russia could suffer serious economic
consequences if it follows through on threats to veto a UN resolution
authorizing war on Iraq.
In an interview with Izvestia published Tuesday, US ambassador to Moscow
Alexander Vershbow said a Russian veto could put at risk planned US-Russian
energy cooperation, including massive US investments Russia's vast oil
industry. Yet he appeared to back off this threat in an interview with the
daily Gazeta Friday, saying the United States was interested in
dramatically increasing the amount of Russian oil it imports every year, as
well as UN investment in Russia's oil industry.
Five Russian oil majors signed an initial deal in November to build an
Arctic export terminal to help them boost shipments to the United States,
and Yukos estimated that Russia could supply the United States with 15
percent of its oil supply.
"We strongly support the development of greater capacity to export oil
Russia. More pipelines will be a good thing for Russia and will allow more
exports," Abraham said.
The energy secretary's statements were echoed by a senior US diplomat said,
who said on condition of anonymity that "there won't be a strategic course
change" in US policy towards Russia even if Moscow vetoes the UN resolution
"The leadership of both sides want to limit the damage because there are
too many things that we want to do together," the Moscow-based diplomat said.
Analysts in Moscow agreed that the Washington recognized Russia's potential
to help the United States lessen its dependence on oil in the instable
"The United States wants to diversify its oil providers and Russia can
become a very important supplier, but for now access to the US markets is
limited by a lack of terminals," said Pavel Kushnir, an analyst with the
Troika Dialog investment bank.
Russian oil majors have been lobbying the government for permission to
build their own pipelines, with all pipelines currently run by the
state-controlled Transneft and working at near full capacity.
Last summer, Russia's second largest company Yukos started sending tankers
to the United States.
In May, presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush launched a program to
boost oil cooperation, but Russian shipments remain small.
"The Russian government is not very active" in helping along the US
cooperation project, Kushnir said, adding that "nearly 99 percent of
Russian oil exports are still destined for Western and Eastern Europe."
While the United States remain the top foreign direct investor in Russia,
European companies are more embedded in Russia's oil sector.
Just last month, Britain's BP announced the largest ever foreign investment
in Russia, launching a joint venture with Alfa Group Access Renova, which
owns Russia's TNK oil major, to create the third-largest Russian oil and
"It is not surprising that it was a European company that carried out
first large acquisition in Russia's oil sector," said analyst Roland Nash
of Renaissance Capital.
"The second could very possibly carried out by another European group
as well as by an American," he said.
Russia currently provides just 0.2 percent of US oil imports, while Saudi
Arabia provides 20 percent and Venezuela provides 14 percent.
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
March 16, 2003
We'll not vote in your referendum, Chechens tell Russia
By Tom Parfitt in Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia
Russia is forging ahead with preparations for a controversial referendum in
Chechnya next Sunday despite repeated clashes with rebels and reports that
voters have been intimidated.
Thousands of refugees in neighbouring Ingushetia are expected to boycott
the referendum, which will ask voters to approve a draft constitution
placing Chechnya under federal control.
Moscow, still smarting after the brutal theatre siege last October in which
118 hostages and their Chechen captors died, is staking its hopes on the
referendum bringing a sense of normality to the rebel republic.
Last week, however, many of the refugees sounded sceptical about the
outcome. "Agreeing to this constitution would be like signing our own death
warrant," said Musa Ibragimov, a former teacher who fled to Sputnik camp,
five miles outside the Chechen border, in 1999 after Russia launched its
second post-Soviet war on the rebellious republic.
"At the moment, they kill and rape our people illegally. Now they want
do it with the backing of the law."
About 540,000 people are eligible to vote in the plebiscite on March 23,
including 60,000 refugees. A third of them are living in tented camps,
sprawled across a muddy plain. Artillery fire can clearly be heard in the
camps, which are only a few miles from their homeland.
While all those who are over 18 will be able to travel by bus to polling
booths just inside Chechnya, many insist that they want nothing to do with
the voting process and suspect that the result will be rigged by the army.
"Russia will direct everything," said Arbi Khachukaev, 26, who
his parents, three brothers and one sister in a single canvas tent heated
by a gas stove. "I'm not going to vote. It's pointless. The result will be
Zaynap Dashaeva, 53, was among the few refugees who said they would cast a
vote of approval. Clutching a battered copy of the constitution in the
entrance to her tent, she shrugged and said: "Who knows? - maybe it will
make a difference. All we can do is hope."
The draft constitution proposes the establishment of a Chechen republic
with its own legislative, executive and judicial powers but which is
subject to Russian federal law.
Western diplomats believe that the constitution will be approved because
people living inside the breakaway republic will be too afraid to veto the
Khamzat Abubakarov, the deputy commandant of the Bella refugee camp near
Sleptsovsk, in Ingushetia, told The Telegraph that his elderly mother in
Chechnya had been pressurised to fill in a form registering her intent to
"They told her she wouldn't get her pension or humanitarian aid if she
didn't fill it in," he said.
Last week, aides to Mr Putin dismissed the claims of coercion, promising
that officials would be prosecuted if they used such tactics. Nonetheless,
Memorial, Russia's most respected human rights group, said that the
referendum should not go ahead while violence continued on both sides.
Memorial says that abductions and beatings of civilians by Russian soldiers
have risen in the run-up to March 23. In January and February it recorded
42 cases of kidnappings during zachistki, or cleansing operations, designed
to flush out rebel fighters. "We are seeing an increase in terror on the
eve of the referendum," said Oleg Orlov, a Memorial official.
Officials in Chechnya admit that 1,660 people, including servicemen, are
missing. Memorial estimates that the number of "disappeared" civilians may
be as high as 2,800.
"A fair vote is impossible at a time when federal troops continue to act
with complete impunity in Chechnya," said Lipkhan Bazayeva, a monitor at
the group's office in Ingushetia. She condemned the decision to allow
36,000 Russian troops stationed in Chechnya to vote as "absurd".
Pressure on the Kremlin has been mounting since Lord Judd, the Council of
Europe's rapporteur on Chechnya, resigned last month over Mr Putin's
decision to press ahead with the referendum in spite of security fears.
The Kremlin has touted the constitution as a legal framework for the
republic after years of war, paving the way to future parliamentary and
presidential elections. Critics say, however, that the referendum is no
substitute for negotiations with rebel groups, a move that Mr Putin has
refused to contemplate.
The referendum requires a 50 per cent turn-out to be valid, and half those
voting must approve the draft constitution for the measure to go through.
So far, however, only 50 per cent of those eligible have registered to vote.
Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist leader, has vowed to disrupt the
referendum, warning earlier this month: "If they go ahead with it, there
will be kidnapping and murder."
Financial Times (UK)
March 15, 2003
Lunch with the FT: Mikhail Fridman
By Robert Cottrell
Robert Cottrell is the FT's Moscow correspondent
My heart goes out to the Italian restaurant in the south of Moscow, which
must have thought itself lucky to attract the custom of Mikhail Fridman,
one of Russia's richest and most influential businessmen.
"I'd been there a couple of times. It was excellent food," recalls
"so I asked: 'Who is your cook?' and they introduced me to this guy."
You can guess the rest. The chef in question now works in Fridman's
executive dining room and we are talking within sight and smell of his
latest masterpiece, a fillet of sturgeon topped with black caviar: two
generations on a single plate.
The obliging Italian restaurant neglected one of Fridman's golden rules for
doing business in Russia, which he summarises: "If you think somebody else
will protect your interest, you will lose it, no chance."
But this makes Fridman sound like a tough guy, which is very far from his
style. You'd be insane to try to get the better of him in a business
transaction, but he is an astonishingly nice man in conversation - a
youthful 38, and by far the most diffident and least sinister figure among
the 20 or so tycoons who dominate Russian big business.
His latest deal has brought him a star quality even within that elite: his
Alfa group and its partners have just sold half an oil company to BP for
$6.75bn, the biggest investment in Russia ever by a foreign company.
Only time will tell whether the deal is a good one for BP, given Russia's
still-difficult business environment. What nobody disputes is that the deal
is a brilliant one for Fridman and his partners. I remember him complaining
two years ago that he would be lucky to get $4bn for the whole of TNK, the
oil company in question, which under the terms of this new deal will absorb
some BP assets and be renamed TNK-BP. Now he has tripled its market value,
sold half of it to a company that was once his sworn enemy, while the half
retained by the Russian investors will be worth much more if the joint
venture with BP goes well.
"It is pleasant," Fridman says, "to be part of the
contemporary history of
He and BP used to be at daggers drawn, because when BP made a much smaller
investment in Russian oil five years ago, Fridman and his friends managed,
through legal but devious use of bankruptcy proceedings, to gain control of
the oilfields BP thought it had bought. It may seem odd now that BP should
want as a partner the one Russian group with a proven record of
dispossessing it, but you can see how it happened.
The two sides acquired a grudging respect for one another in the course of
their previous battle. BP still wanted Russian reserves, and decided it
would do better to have Fridman defending its interests than attacking them.
If that explains why BP bought, it does not quite explain why Fridman sold,
at least now. Why go first, instead of waiting for other foreign deals to
drive the price of Russian assets higher? Was it because he feared
President Vladimir Putin would not tolerate too much foreign ownership of
onshore Russian oil, so best to get in early?
He replies with what I take to be a qualified yes. "For the time being,
don't believe one could sell half the whole [Russian oil] industry to
foreigners," he says, "not because that is unacceptable to Mr Putin but
because it would be unacceptable to public opinion."
But attitudes will change, he thinks, and the BP deal may speed the
process: "In two or three years people will be saying, 'we did this deal
with BP, and BP is paying taxes, it is paying salaries, maybe it even pays
more than its Russian-owned competitors, so why is it necessary for the
biggest Russian companies all to be owned by Russians?'"
He also believes BP's example will "change the attitude of other foreign
investors", encouraging them to take the plunge into Russia.
The deal follows a breathless decade and a half in which Fridman, with
friends from student days, built a business empire on the opportunities
presented first by Gorbachev-era perestroika, then by Yeltsin-era
privatisations. Window-cleaning and small trading yielded the capital for a
commodity business and the start-up of Alfa Bank, now the largest private
bank in Russia.
The Alfa shareholders bought TNK from the state in 1997 in partnership with
two metals-industry entrepreneurs, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik.
Fridman says managerial power is highly devolved within the Alfa group,
avoiding the centralisation more common in Russian business groups and
leaving him, as its chairman, time to "think about strategy and philosophy
- I am not a machine for making decisions".
Art, music and theatre remain an important part of his life, he insists,
and I believe him. Alfa ranks among Russia's most enlightened sponsors of
cultural events - and besides, I caught Fridman incognito in my local
Moscow jazz club not long ago, albeit with his limousine humming away in
the courtyard and a big black Jeep behind it for his bodyguards.
I put it to my host that he is an improbably gentle person for an oligarch,
as Russian tycoons are commonly known, and he splutters on his salad in
protest. "You have to be quite tough to be this successful," he insists.
It is also true that Alfa's decentralised management allows other people to
be very tough on the group's behalf when necessary. I do not know anybody,
for example, who would describe Alfa's top man at TNK, German Khan, as the
I ask Fridman where he thinks he would be now if it had not been for the
collapse of communism.
"I would have had just two opportunities," he says. "To leave
which was a typical decision for Jewish people at that time, or to stay and
make a career in science." The second of those was the more likely, he
says, because he would not have wanted to leave Russia without his parents,
and his father, a defence industry worker, would probably have been refused
permission to emigrate.
He was barred from his first choice of university, the Moscow Physics and
Technical Institute, by a quota system for Jewish students. Had he
encountered anti-Semitism later, in his business career? "Never on an
official level, never from the people in charge," he says. "The traditions
of power in Russia mean that the attitudes shown at the highest level are
very important, and Yeltsin and Putin, both of them, are not anti-Semitic
I ask him whether he thinks Russia is moving, nonetheless, towards a
nationalistic model of society, rather than an open one. "There is not a
single, unified trend," he replies. Business "has become much more
international, especially since 1998", when the Russian government's
devaluation and debt default temporarily drove away foreign investors.
But the decline of Russia as a world power has made a lot of people
frustrated, disappointed, and that is a source for the growth of
nationalism," he says. The optimistic view, he suggests, is that Russian
business is taking the lead in its openness to the world, and attitudes in
other parts of society will catch up.
Coffee appears at 2.30, and I ask what might follow the BP sale. Was it the
biggest deal of Fridman's life? "Hopefully not," he replies. "We are not
planning to become pensioners."
March 14, 2003
The 'Putin Plan' or a New Political Era
The reshuffles in government security departments and the leadership of the
North-West Federal District have dispelled any doubts that a new political
era has begun.
Boris Yeltsin often moved his ministers about in a haphazard way. Vladimir
Putin, on the other hand, does it quite masterfully. Like his predecessor,
Mr Putin seems to act quite suddenly and yet everything he does is assured
and appears to be well thought out and calculated.
According to Andrei Fyodorov, director of the Council on Foreign and
Defense Policy, the recent appointments (Victor Cherkesov was appointed
head of a new security department and Valentina Matvienko was appointed
presidential plenipotentiary of the North-West Federal District) were
decided upon some time ago. Also, these new appointments should not be seen
as the last.
Mr Fyodorov spoke about his predictions in an exclusive interview with a
Firstly, Mr Fyodorov claims that a serious political career is awaiting Mr
Cherkesov. Secondly, Mrs Matvienko is not returning to St. Petersburg in
order to become city governor. What is more, Mr Fyodorov suggests that we
should not interpret the recent reshuffle in the security departments as a
kind of reform but rather as a kind of warning to certain members of the
government in the run-up to presidential elections.
-Andrei Vladimirovich, how expected was the recent reshuffle by the
-It was not at all unexpected for me. Especially where Victor Cherkesov is
-Why were you expecting this to happen?
-As far as I am aware, the question of bringing Mr Cherkesov back to Moscow
has been under discussion for the last year. Mr Cherkesov will help to
strengthen Mr Putin's team in Moscow. Moreover, as I see it, this new
appointment for Mr Cherkesov is only a temporary one. I have some reason to
believe that he is part of what I call the 'Putin Plan', that is relocation
to a serious position in Moscow with promotion to follow.
-You mean to say that Mr Cherkesov may soon become head of the new security
branch - the Federal Investigation Service?
-There are other positions which could suit Mr Cherkesov.
-I am talking about his political career.
-And what about Valentina Matvienko? Is this appointment a promotion or a
demotion for her?
-From a bureaucratic point of view it is of course a demotion. However,
this appointment will give her more political influence and in this respect
it is a promotion. As she is the presidential plenipotentiary in a federal
district she will now have more contact with the president than she did as
deputy prime minister in Moscow where she was really just another member of
the presidential administration.
-What is the long-term reason for sending Mrs Matvienko to St. Petersburg?
-She will have a very difficult job to do, that is solve the so-called
'Yakovlev problem' (trans.: Vladimir Yakovlev is the Governor of St.
Petersburg). The president has been very clever here. This appointment has
been made at exactly the right time. In the current situation Mrs Matvienko
will handle the problem better than Mr Cherkesov. The problem is that Mr
Cherkesov would probably have tackled this problem in a confrontational way
which could have had serious consequences. Men, of course, will always be
men. I am sure, though, that Mrs Matvienko will manage to restrict the
current level of authority that Mr Yakovlev enjoys in his dealings with the
federal authorities. I have known her since she was secretary of the
district committee in Leningrad and I have a lot of respect for her.
Mrs Matvienko has always managed to make the right decisions while never
losing sight of the ultimate goal. This goal is well known to everyone:
Yakovlev must not be allowed to stand as city governor for a third time.
Mrs Matvienko is the best person to resolve the difficulties between St.
Petersburg and the central government which have been noticeable over the
last 18 months.
-I think it could be difficult for her to resolve these difficulties as
many regard her as a potential candidate for governor.
-Mrs Matvienko will not have the task of taking Mr Yakovlev's place as city
governor. As I have already said, her task will be to make sure that Mr
Yakovlev is not nominated for a third term in office.
-Does the Kremlin have any candidates in mind as the new governor of St.
-To be honest, I can't see anyone serious in this role. Except those that
have been mentioned before.
-Is Lyudmila Narusova one of those 'mentioned before'?
-Over the last few years she has made so many enemies that it would be
difficult to see her in this position. Of course, for a long time the
Kremlin has had one powerful figure that would have every chance of winning
the vote. That is Sergei Stepashin. Whether or not Mr Stepashin wants this
position at the moment is a different matter.
-Does Mr Yakovlev have a successor in mind?
-Several, I believe. However, I am sure that he will still fight to the end
to keep his position and will only give up at the last minute.
-Won't the 300th anniversary of the city be like a finale for the
governor's career? Will the city cope with so many visiting heads of state?
Surely the governor will have to take responsibility if anything goes wrong?
-Who knows whether all these presidents will actually attend the party:
-I can quite confidently say that if Russia votes against the US in the
United Nations on the Iraq issue then many potential guests will be lost
for St. Petersburg. Hopefully this won't actually happen.
-Let's talk about federal issues. Vladimir Putin's announcement of security
reform on Tuesday:
-I wouldn't describe the reshuffle as reform. What has happened could be
described as a transformation. Real reform will come later.
-What is the reason for it all?
-There are a number of reasons. There is the unresolved problem in
Chechnya. The situation within the republic highlighted the confusion
between the Federal Security Service and the Federal Border Guards. Another
reason, I think, is that Mr Putin has understood that effective reform will
only be possible under the guidance of a firm hand which can punish the
bureaucrats now and again. Mr Putin has signaled to the bureaucrats that he
is flexing his muscles and will not tolerate any more games.
-Is it a warning to bureaucrats in general, or does he have someone in
particular in mind?
-Indirectly it is a warning to the prime minister. The new security bloc
will be capable of preventing any attempts by certain parts of the
government to play a significant role in the presidential elections.
Interviewed by Igor Shatrov, Moscow
Translated by Nick Chesters
March 12-18, 2003
Cracks in the "White House"
The split within the Cabinet laid bare its inability to pursue credible
By Viktor Loshak
The Russian government is in crisis. It is not that the country has lost
faith in the ruling authority; the latter has lost faith in itself. Three
weeks ago, the prime minister, without any discussion with or endorsement by
the key ministers, signed off on a bankruptcy law, which came as the last
straw: Contradictions within the Cabinet that had been swept under the rug
finally got out into the open. Three key figures - Alexei Kudrin, German
Gref, and Gennady Bugaev - sent the prime minister a letter asking him to
withdraw the document. Not only did the letter get to the media, but one of
its authors, in a meeting with journalists, said bluntly: "I consider this
decision erroneous. It will be reversed." Please note that this was a
minister's comment about a decision made by his superior - the prime minister.
Behind the scenes, Cabinet members thus opined on the new procedure: "The
economy is already overheated by ongoing bankruptcies, but the new system is
simply designed for made-to-order bankruptcies." Ms. Trefilova (head of the
Federal Service for Financial Restructuring, placed in charge of bankruptcy
procedure. - V.L.) is a person close to Kasyanov while Kasyanov is in favor
with you know who (Yeltsin Family. --Ed.). So this gives you a pretty good
idea in whose interests bankruptcies will be conducted as of now."
Yet by far the most disturbing conclusion was: This marks the beginning of a
new stage - re-division of what has already been divvied up.
Cracks in the Kasyanov cabinet have always been carefully papered and glossed
over: A reform government was in charge in Russia!
Yet the schism potential had been building up because the majority of
government officials do not really want reforms nor do they understand them.
Whether a minister is inclined to reform his particular sector or acts in his
own selfish interests, this does not in any way affect his official position.
Not surprisingly, some documents take months and even years to coordinate,
amend and move from one ministry to another while others, by a strange quirk,
are promptly signed by the prime minister. As was the case recently, when
Kasyanov decided that Vneshekonombank (VEB) should handle pension funds. Why
was the prime minister in such a hurry, considering that the money itself
could not come to VEB before December? Generally, after Vladimir Chernukhin,
Kasyanov's former subordinate and protege, was appointed VEB chairman, the
bank, which was at one time all but officially declared the country's paying
agent for its foreign debt, has been seeing some odd changes: Now it has been
authorized to handle pension funds, and there is talk about VEB soon
servicing military hardware contracts.
Perhaps Kasyanov's style is what is known as "technical executive,"
there should be another prime minister in charge of political matters -
somewhere. And everyone knows exactly where that is.
This is why ministers who have access to Putin go directly to the Kremlin,
bypassing the "White House," either to upstage Kasyanov's decisions or to
seek to change them. Thus, 18 months ago, the currency regulation law was
effectively shelved. The Cabinet never got around to discussing it - until
the president said: Do it. Now the law will be brought in line with reality
that has effectively liberalized currency flow.
Can the president be expected to monitor all Cabinet decisions? Hardly. They
say that when Putin is really interested in something, he is ready to sit up
with his ministers well into the night. All the same, these will be just
Generally, it would be a big stretch to say that the Cabinet acts in good
faith on everything that Putins says. In his latest state of the nation
address, the president spoke about reform of the power structure. Where is
it? And this is not a purely technical matter; it is a matter of worldview.
Merge a couple of ministries into one? Replace one minister by another?
Reduce the number of deputy prime ministers? This is just playing musical
chairs, cadre leapfrogging. The public is basically very much in the dark,
though, as to whether the president, let alone Kasyanov, is able to overcome
his personal attachment to his proteges when the latter are clearly no good.
A case in point is the hands-off sanctuary that the Health Ministry has
become. Whenever it is pointed out that the minister is not only incompetent
but does not answer to anybody, someone will always meaningfully point
upwards: "Surely you know about Shevchenko's track record in St. Petersburg."
What a challenge it is to tread on people's toes! But what other options are
there if we are to become internationally competitive and integrate into the
world community? One way is of course to keep tinkering with socialism while
working hard to catch up with outdated capitalist models, but then we will be
back to square one. Ambitious, far-reaching plans cannot be carried out and
breakthroughs cannot be made with a governing instrument as obsolete as a
flint-lock. It is not a matter of cutting down on government bureaucracy but
revising its functions. It is wrong for decisions to be made and their
implementation overseen by the same bunch of people, as is the case with our
ministries. One glaring example of the system's absurdity is the agricultural
establishment, which has effectively become a thing in itself.
The type of official who treats the public as his subordinates and subjects
should be replaced by another - one who treats society as a consumer of
services. From boss to supplier. Hence the changes in the federal power
structure, including in the flow of funds and oversight procedure.
Now, there is a Kasyanov letter to Putin, proposing a revision of the
government structure by 2004. The president is known to have approved the
Yet no one seems to know what letters are needed to override the interests of
the central figure in the existing system: the bureaucrat/businessman. Thus
far even the first moves to translate reformers' ideas into reality have been
floundering. How can you possibly have government officials and economic
experts work on a law to reform the civil service together if the former see
the law as an opportunity to feather their nests to the degree possible
(fixed salary, immunity to dismissal, minimum penalty for any wrongdoing, and
so on) while the latter are pushing for something altogether different -
namely, that a government official should have to prove his worth while his
advancement should be based strictly on merit.
Today experts at the Economic Development Ministry are becoming increasingly
convinced that some reforms simply cannot be implemented within the existing
system of governance. Is this where the president comes in again?
Digression on the Prime Minister
In working on this article, I met with ministers and their deputies, former
government officials and experts. Strange as this may be, all of them were
stumped by one apparently simple question: Why do you think Putin appointed
Kasyanov prime minister?
Before becoming prime minister, Kasyanov was responsible for a very
important, high-profile sphere - Russia's foreign debt. The prime minister
presumably has a pretty good idea about the Western economy, favors a
rapprochement between the systems, and is proficient in English. He is
good-looking and has the bearing of a Kremlin Regiment serviceman. At the
same time he is too publicity-shy for his age and looks. He never offers a
coherent formulation of his objectives, and there is little doubt that each
meeting with newsmen is something of an ordeal for him.
Kasyanov is very good in the State Duma. He comes across as a credible, solid
figure, but most important, is on the same wavelength with the majority of
It seems that his bureaucratic past still haunts the prime minister both
externally and internally. This is not only about the fear to deviate from
the general line (Kasyanov has already moved away from it by entering into
indirect polemics with the president on the issue of whether the government's
plans are far-reaching enough). As a representative of the bureaucratic clan,
Kasyanov overstates the role of the state, its efficacy. He may be one of
those officials who are unable to break with their moot past - in his case,
as a burgeoning career bureaucrat. Our prime minister may be an avowed
advocate of the status quo, with no abrupt changes. Hence the foot-dragging
on the reform of the all but Soviet system of governance.
Is Kasyanov ready to commit himself and get rid of those who are loyal but
whose hearts and minds are still back in the Soviet past?
Two de-facto governments behind one facade are the legacy of our Soviet past
- the era of the Council of Ministers and the CPSU Central Committee. These
two branches - the ministries and the government staff - are locked in a
constant, senseless war of attrition that goes on for months and years. It is
a rare document that, after endorsement by 20 to 30 agencies, will emerge
from the government offices without injury or amputation. In government staff
jargon, this is known as "bringing documents in line with the common
standards of state practice."
What use is it talking from public rostrums about time running out, about the
nation needing new laws, rules and regulations? State bureaucracy seems to
have its own notion of time, using its own units to measure it. It may jolly
well be that those units are too well known.
There is no denying the fact that the government staff is, in its own way, a
well organized, smoothly running mechanism. It has officials duplicating the
functions of particular ministries; there are lawyers and paperwork experts.
The chief of staff, Igor Shuvalov, has six deputies, his first deputy being
Alexandra Levitskaya. Not a single document that matters can come out without
her endorsement. As everyone within the government knows, Levitskaya is both
supervisor and liaison between the Kremlin and the Cabinet.
If one of them does not want a particular piece of legislation, the latter
will never end up on the Cabinet desk. A case in point is the law on minimum
state standards, i.e. living standards, which began to be drafted back in
Alas, all is rather simpler than it seems. The prime minister delegates his
powers to the government staff. The staff begins to run the ministries,
eventually coming to live a life of its own.
The government is a cumbersome, top-heavy structure. In addition to the
government staff, there are 55 ministries and agencies. This may be a time
bomb, for the sheer number far exceeds all norms of manageability. What is
surprising in this context is not that some laws and resolutions fail to be
adopted, but that something comes out of this dark labyrinth at all.
Despairing of securing a comprehensive coordination scheme for any draft law,
I sought to trace just the legal line of the procedure: a sponsoring ministry
- the government's Legal Department - the Institute of Comparative Law - the
Ministry of Justice - the presidential Legal Administration - State Duma
legal experts - back to the presidential Legal Administration after the first
reading - the government staff - the Federation Council Legal Administration
- the president - back to the presidential Legal Administration, and so forth.
Today many recall that in late 2000, a document drafting and coordination
procedure was worked out that virtually stopped the paper mill from producing
any documents at all. What is still worse is that the mechanism is being
skillfully used by the apparat (procrastination, nit-picking on
technicalities, wording, etc.) to obstruct certain documents in order to show
the inefficiency of an uncooperative ministry. In other words, legal
procedure is one form of the power struggle within the Cabinet. At the same
time, the apparat is never in the wrong: It only uses the procedure at its
One of my interlocutors, a well known expert and former leader in the
pre-Kasyanov cabinet, was fairly blunt: "Today ministries exist to produce
rough drafts. This is true for all decisions. The government staff is no
longer a purely technical agency, it's an ideological one."
Another interlocutor, a minister: "The staff is not responsible for
but it makes all the decisions."
Digression on the Reform Program
Reform of the governance structure is admittedly one of the pet subjects of
media speculation. The drama here is that a wave of this reform could either
sweep away some prominent figures into obscurity or raise them even higher.
It is assumed that not only each branch of government but even every state
figure who is anybody have their own idea and their own program of how to
reform this structure.
Somehow it was soon forgotten that a governance reform program, not only as a
document on several dozen pages but also as a consensus on the ideas of
dozens of politicians, experts, and scholars, openly aired and discussed, had
already been worked out. It was the first, and perhaps the main, part of the
program produced by the Center for Strategic Studies, often referred to as
the Gref Center, so called after its head, German Gref.
It will be recalled that the Center was created by Putin - most likely as a
structure to work out his own, presidential program. Furthermore, his
election campaign office was located at the same address as the Center: at
Alexander House. Putin, however, won in effect without any program; by late
2000, all of its four parts - on reforming the governance structure, the
economy, and the social and the international sphere - had been ready, and it
was time some action was taken on the document. The program consisted of two
parts: The social and economic section went to the government while
everything to do with the power structure and the international sphere went
to the Presidential Staff. Society has yet to see the latter.
Dmitry Kozak, one of its co-authors, is working to implement some of the
document's ideas. But his powers are clearly insufficient to carry out one of
its key sections - the one concerning reform of government. The president's
(and his staff's) interest in the Gref Center's creation should not, however,
be overstated. The main change in the vertical power structure that has
occurred in the past few years - formation of seven federal districts with
their mini-presidents, prosecutors, ministers, and bureaucracy - was never in
In hindsight, two and a half years after it was finalized, is the Gref
Center's reform program good or bad?
I can only say that many of its authors anticipated many of the problems
concerned with the administration's structure, in particular those mentioned
earlier in this article (e.g., VEB, the bankruptcy law). Here is what they
wrote, having enumerated a number of acute problems between the state and the
individual: "These manifestations are generally seen in society as the
state's weakness. As a matter of fact, the ruling authority is being
selectively weak. Its decisions that advance special interests (large
financial-industrial groups, influential officials, and so forth) are carried
out expeditiously and toughly enough. Insofar as the interests of society in
general and of large social groups in particular are concerned, and with
regard to protection of civil rights, the authorities become anemic and
inexpert while their action lacks focus."
I asked my interlocutors whether they believe that, fatigued by the
transition from one mode of life to another, society expects anything to come
out of reform in the first place and whether reform of the power system could
not be the concern of only the ruling establishment itself.
Many are confident that a public discussion in Russia today is impossible.
"Managed democracy" and society's insensitivity even to such an irritant as
the war in Chechnya could produce a 1970s Latin American-style scenario:
rejection by society of a market course because of an authoritarian regime.
Do all those in power realize that with this course the economy can advance
only in the context of public trust. The "everybody-is-on-the-take" ideology
will simply not work here.
On the other hand, society's attitude to reform has changed far greater than
has the ability of the ruling establishment to carry through these reforms.
Polls show that an alleviation of the tax burden, a new level of economic
freedom, a weakening of state regulation, reform of the governance system,
and a crackdown on bureaucracy would have a big public response.
The Kasyanov government has been running the country for almost three years
now. Life has become more secure; there is less concern about the future.
More people have become rich while the rich have become even richer. Having
legalized their capital, Russian business leaders have made it onto the
Forbes list. Oil is $30 per barrel; the prices of natural gas are stable; the
Russian economy is on the up. Yet governments, like friends, are tested in
times of need. How far have the Kremlin and the government taken Russia away
After a pause for thought, most everyone will mention the tax reform, one
result of which has been an increase in officially declared wages. The
business sector has begun to emerge from the shadows. The pension reform is
beginning to make pensions stable.
Despite the complaints from the business community, economic deregulation is
beginning to kick in.
But all of this is just a fraction of what needs to be done. Meanwhile, the
ruling authority, still very much in control, continues to dissipate its
credibility resource. There is always a reason for putting reform on hold:
elections, Chechnya, an upcoming war in Iraq or what have you. But public
trust is a chance for both Putin, Kasyanov and, if you will pardon my saying
so, the country as a whole. Russia may not have another.