May 12, 1999
Russian President Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Primakov, leading to a 10 percent drop on the Moscow stock exchange and calls for Yeltsin's resignation.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott spent the day in Moscow talking with Russian Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. They reportedly focused on how the Russians could help western nations broker a Kosovo peace plan. Yesterday, Russia joined China in refusing to support any peace plan until NATO stops bombing Yugoslavia. And today President Yeltsin threatened to abandon the entire peace effort if Russian proposals were ignored. The meeting ended with Chernomyrdin reiterating his country's position on the NATO bombing campaign.
VIKTOR CHERNOMYRDIN: (Translated) If it continues, Russia will end its involvement in this process.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Nonetheless, Talbott praised Chernomyrdin's attempts to help the West solve the crisis.
STROBE TALBOTT: He and his president and his government are clearly prepared to keep working on the diplomatic track as long as they feel there is some point in doing so. And we would say the same about ourselves.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chernomyrdin and Talbott are scheduled to meet again tomorrow. Today's meeting went on in spite of yet another political upheaval in Russia.
PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN: (Translated) Dear Russians, today I made a difficult decision. I dismissed the government.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: This morning, President Yeltsin fired his prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, saying he hadn't done enough to bring economic reform to the country. But White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart said he did not think Primakov's removal would affect the efforts toward peace.
JOE LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't expect it to. I think Russia has played a constructive role over the last several weeks in looking for a way to -- or finding a way in working with US and NATO allies to meet the conditions that NATO has laid out. So I expect the diplomatic effort that has been ongoing since around the time of the NATO summit will continue.
|A formal apology.|
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Meanwhile, in Beijing, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. He then issued an unconditional apology for his country's and NATO's in the bombing of the Chinese embassy.
GERHARD SCHROEDER: (Translated) We really have to formally and officially apologize. And I have done this not only on behalf of the federal German government, which is part of NATO and thereby has borne responsibility for this as well, but also when I met NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. We explicitly agreed that I was going to do so on behalf of his name and NATO as well.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For the first time in days, there were no angry demonstrations outside the American embassy in Beijing. Flags all over China flew at half staff as the ashes of the three Chinese journalists who were killed in the embassy bombing were brought home. And US Ambassador James Sasser finally left the American embassy without incident.
JAMES SASSER: When all the emotions have drained out of this terrible tragedy, then wiser heads in both China and the United States, our two countries-- the United States -- the superpower economically and militarily in the world, and China, the most populous nation in the world and a rising power in this region, it's in our interest to try to build a constructive relationship.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: This evening, French President Jacques Chirac arrived in Moscow where he, too, is scheduled to meet with Russian officials tomorrow, even as the Russian parliament is scheduled to begin debate on whether to impeach President Yeltsin.
JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: We get three views on developments in Moscow. Dimitri
Simes is a Russian native and president of the Nixon Center, a Washington-based
think tank. His newest book is called "After the Collapse: Russia
Seeks its Place as a Great Power." Leon Aron has written a biography
of Boris Yeltsin to be published this fall. He is a resident scholar
at the American Enterprise Institute. And Stephen Cohen is a professor
of Russian studies at New York University and the author of numerous
books on Russia. Welcome, gentlemen.
LEON ARON: Well, the government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was -- it was a product of a very interesting compromise in the wake of the financial collapse of last August. In essence, President Yeltsin told the Communist-led parliament, I will keep my hands off economic policy; I will let the government run economic policy and I will let the parliament in essence support the government that for the first time actually in Russian post-Communist history was beholden not to the president but to the parliament majority.
MARGARET WARNER: Because a lot of the hardliners in the Russian parliament liked Primakov very much?
LEON ARON: Exactly. He was, I think, an optimal choice at the time. There were two tasked understandings in this compromise. The first one is that the government develop some coherent economic policy and that it tries to get through the Duma - the lower House of the Russian Parliament -- at least some key measures that would help to get the country on the road to economic recovery and at the same time help propagate the kind of economic policy that the previous reformist governments, right of center governments, could not pass through the Communist plurality in the Duma. The second understanding was this: that in exchange for the sort of hands-off policy by the president, vis-à-vis the economic affairs, the parliament refrains from direct attacks on the president, most certainly from impeachment. And it seems to me that the basis of that compromise, that both of these points, from Yeltsin's point of view did not work out. The government did not develop an economic policy. It failed, even though the head of the economic policy in the Primakov government was the leading member of the Communist faction in the Duma, the government still failed to pass some key measures through the Communist-dominated Duma that were necessary. And, secondly, it also, I think most importantly yesterday on the political front, the parliament voted to start impeachment proceedings. So from Yeltsin's point of view I think the basis upon which the Primakov government, that compromise rested, disappeared. And more broadly, I think there was -- it was a house divided and of course I think Yeltsin decided that it's time to end the stalemate.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain it, Dimitri Simes?
DIMITRI SIMES: Well, I think that Yeltsin is unfit to govern, that we just could see his face. We could see how he talks. This is a man who lost his physical and intellectual faculties. He cannot govern but he is very envious when somebody becomes visible from under him. And Primakov was Russia's most successful politician and he was doing too well for his own good. And Yeltsin, I think, also came to a conclusion that that Primakov was working fairly well with the parliament. Primakov had just concluded a deal with the International Monetary Fund and Yeltsin was becoming kind of unnecessary. And since he could not find a--
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, he was becoming kind of what?
DIMITRI SIMES: Unnecessary. He was redundant to other Russian power arrangements. And what I think Yeltsin wanted to do is to remind everyone who was the boss and also to create an artificial crisis, like the one he had in 1993 when his tanks shelled the parliament because he's at his best in crisis. But have I to say this is a very dangerous game because Mr. Primakov was Mr. Stability and I think that now Yeltsin appointed people with excellent police credentials but no real political and economic credentials. And I think that we may see more of destabilizing confrontation in Russia.
MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Cohen, you're nodding. You agree?
STEPHEN COHEN: I agree mainly with Dimitri. I would add a darker motive, which is not compatible with what Leon says but probably compatible with Dimitri. Russia, as we all know, is a country utterly awash in human misery, stolen property, broken dreams. People clamor to know who's responsible. It's been clear for months that Yeltsin fears being held responsible for what's happened in Russia. At first he tried to strike an agreement for immunity. Then he tried to get rid of this impeachment proceeding, which will begin tomorrow. In the end, he came to the conclusion that his old prime minister, Primakov, could not protect him when he leaves power or before he leaves power. And so now he's wagered that by putting the man with the guns, the head of the ministry of the interior, the man who controls the best armed, best maintained armed divisions in Russia as prime minister, and I direct your attention, imagine the top policeman as prime minister, who I believe Chernomyrdin plays a role as well, he believes that this will scare the parliament and that this will protect him. I agree with Dimitri. I think it's wrong, it won't work, it's dangerous, it's destabilizing. I think it's going to ramify in very bad ways for Russia, for the Yugoslav war and for the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: Dimitri Simes, go back to why you think it's dangerous. What do you think it's going to lead to internally?
DIMITRI SIMES: I think that while the Duma was threatening to impeach Yeltsin, I don't think they have a realistic possibility to impeach him for a variety of Russian constitutional and political reasons. But now of course they have to assume that once they refuse to confirm this policeman, Stipachin, who was appointed new Russian prime minister, then Yeltsin submits Stipachin's name or somebody else like Stipachin, a couple of more times, and then he has to dissolve the Duma -- if the Duma refuses -
MARGARET WARNER: This is set up in the Russian system.
DIMITRI SIMES: Exactly. So the only way the Duma can protect itself is now to vote for articles of impeachment. Because once Duma voted for at least one article of impeachment then according to the same Russian constitution, it cannot be dissolved. So you would have a constitutional crisis, a free-fall, where Yeltsin, of course, will try to use the so-called power ministries, the securities services, the military and incidentally the only political party which fully supported Yeltsin is the party of - Zhirinovsky -- and the prime minister is Zhirinovsky's candidate. The Communists, of course, will use people power; there will be mass demonstrations and they also have some local governors controlling local police detachments at their disposal. It may become very nasty.
|Resolving the Kosovo crisis.|
MARGARET WARNER: Leon Aron, what impact is this going to have on what the US cares most about right now, which is Russia's ability and willingness to continue trying to resolve this Kosovo crisis?
LEON ARON: I think I agree with Dimitri that this is very destabilizing. We disagree as to the motives and where it might lead. It's very destabilizing in the short run. I think that whatever chances there are for Russian constructive participation in the resolution of the Kosovo crisis are these -- these chances are going to diminish rapidly -- because, after all, who -- the country is in deep crisis -- if you will be dealing with the president and here I agree with Dimitri, who because of the firing of Chernomyrdin -
MARGARET WARNER: The firing of Primakov.
LEON ARON: I'm sorry, Prime Minister Primakov, because of that he angered the yet uncommitted members of the parliament and there may be indeed the passage of one of the articles at least of people of they need to get two-third majority. And the commitment of Russia will become emptier and emptier because we don't know who we are dealing with. Plus, don't forget that -- that the Communist-led majority or plurality, I should say, in the Duma is arch-nationalist. They were pro Serbian. In fact, they voted to unite Russia and Serbia. So that added oil into that fire. And even in an imperfect democracy like Russia, can you not really make commitments on behalf of the executive power while the legislature is up in arms against that policy. So I think overall impact is going to be disturbing.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Stephen Cohen, this is going to really hamper Russia's ability to pursue this peace process?
STEPHEN COHEN: I think the moment that President Yeltsin named Chernomyrdin as special envoy and excluded Primakov from the negotiations with Yugoslavia, it was doubtful whether any agreement that Chernomyrdin brought home to Moscow could be made to stick in Moscow. Primakov is enormously popular in Russia. Chernomyrdin has no credibility whatsoever. Now you have a government headed by a policeman who is loathed by the country for his contribution to the bloody war in Chechnya, it's the first time a policeman's held such a high rank in Russia since the bad old days. And there's one other factor. Whether we agree or not, many, many Russians, educated Russians, political Russians, believe that the United States abetted, helped in the ouster of Primakov -- that in any Primakov faction in Washington, perhaps in the IMF wanted to be rid of Primakov. That may not be true but it's believed widely in Russia. It's the headline in tomorrow's newspapers -- already in the papers today. And that means this development will deepen and further embitter Russian anti-Americanism and make it even harder for Russia to be an intermediary.
MARGARET WARNER: And how do you interpret or explain both Yeltsin's threat today that - you know-- we may just pull out of these talks if our proposals aren't taken more seriously and also yesterday kind of embracing the Chinese view that NATO bombing has to stop before we'll go to the UN Security Council with anything?
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, let me say, just to get my subjective view out, I, too, believe the bombing must stop immediately. I don't think that's an irrational position: Stop the bombing and start the negotiating. But, look, Yeltsin is in a dangerous, perilous position in Russia. No matter what he says or does, he is associated in Russia with the pro-American, pro-Western economic and foreign policies that have led the country, for one reason or another, to utter ruin. This is the way he's perceived in Russia. His own positive standing is 2 percent in Russia. So, it hardly matters any longer what he says for or against the war. Obviously when he threatens the United States over the war, he's trying to embellish his reputation in Russia but it's too late.
MARGARET WARNER: Agree, briefly, too late?
DIMITRI SIMES: Well, Yeltsin has no reputation to protect. But he desperately needs Clinton support. He has no domestic political base. So actually he may want to be more accommodating in Kosovo. But if he tries to do it, A, as Steve said, it would politically back fire; B, the United States would be blamed for that. And, C, I do not know how much leverage Yeltsin really has over Milosevic. That is a very big unknown.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.