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CABLES  [REDACTED]  FROM U.S. EMBASSY,   MOSCOW  TO WASHINGTON


Obtained by FRONTLINE producer Sherry Jones/Washington Media Associates, through the Freedom of Information Act
NOV 92
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO WHITEHOUSE WASHDC, SECSTATE WASHDC
SUBJECT: THE UNDERLYING RUSSIAN POLITICAL CRISIS: A REFLECTIVE ESSAY

... YELTSIN IS RAPIDLY APPROACHING A FUNDAMENTAL DECISION POINT: EITHER HE WILL COMPROMISE THE SPEED AND DIRECTION OF HIS REVOLUTION THROUGH COOPTATION OF AND BY THE SO-CALLED "CENTRISTS"; OR HE WILL ATTEMPT TO INITIATE A NEW PHASE OF RADICAL REFORM THROUGH AUTHORITARIAN AND EXTRA-CONSTITUTIONAL ACTION. EITHER COURSE WOULD ENDANGER THE FRAGILE, NASCENT BASIS OF DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA.

... MANY PRO-DEMOCRACY GROUPS ARE IMPALED ON A DILEMMA OF THEIR OWN PRINCIPLES: THEY WANT RADICAL REFORM, BUT THEY WANT CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT AT THE SAME TIME. THE NUB OF THEIR DILEMMA IS THAT THE PRESENT CONSTITUTION IS SUITED TO IMPEDE REFORM, AND NOT TO FURTHER IT.

THE GAYDAR ADMINISTRATION IS TIRED. AFTER ALMOST A YEAR OF UNRELENTING STRUGGLE (WITH LITTLE MORE THAN TEA AND SYMPATHY FROM THE WEST), YELTSIN'S BRILLIANT AND FAR-SIGHTED REFORM COORDINATOR MAY BE NEARING PERSONAL AND POLITICAL EXHAUSTION. GAYDAR HAS ACCOMPLISHED A GREAT DEAL IN CHANGING THE RULES OF THE ECONOMIC GAME IN RUSSIA. HIS SUCCESSES ARE REAL, BUT TANGIBLE RESULTS ARE NOT YET EVIDENT TO MOST OF THE POPULATION, WHO SEE INFLATION AS GAYDAR'S MAIN LEGACY AND WHO FEAR MASS UNEMPLOYMENT IS NOT FAR BEHIND. GAYDAR'S REMAINING AGENDA (PRIVATIZATION, BREAKING UP MONOPOLIES, INDIVIDUAL OWNERSHIP OF LAND) REQUIRES ACTION - AND A NEW POLICY CONSENSUS - FROM A LEGISLATURE DEEPLY HOSTILE TO FURTHER FORAYS INTO THE UNKNOWN.

MOST FOREIGNERS (AND PROBABLY MOST RUSSIANS AS WELL) THINK OF THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT AS A STRONG PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM WITH A WEAK PARLIAMENT. JURIDICALLY, JUST THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. ...

WITH THE OLLAPSE [SIC] OF SOVIET POWER, RUSSIA INHERITED A CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM REMARKABLY ILL-SUITED TO PROVIDING EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT DURING A DIFFICULT TRANSITION TO A MARKET ECONOMY. THE PRESIDENT SYSTEM IS, IN FACT, A PRESCRIPTION FOR POLICY GRIDLOCK, SOONER OR LATER. YELTSIN HAS BEEN A STRONG PRESIDENT THIS PAST YEAR BECAUSE HE IS STRONG AND BECAUSE THE LEGISLATURE WAS WEAK FROM DISARRAY AND UNFAMILIARITY WITH THE EXERCISE OF POWER. THE LEGISLATURE IS NOT INHERENTLY WEAK; BY THE CONSTITUTION, THE CONGRESS IS SUPREME AND THE PRESIDENCY IS LITTLE MORE THAN ITS SERVANT. ...

THUS, YELTSIN'S APPARENT DOMINANCE OF MOSCOW POLITICS THIS PAST YEAR WAS MISLEADING. HIS GREAT PERSONAL AND POLITICAL CHARISMA, PLUS HIS TRUE LEADERSHIP IN THE CRISIS DAYS OF AUGUST 1991, PERMITTED YELTSIN TO FILL THE VACUUM LEFT BY THE COLLAPSE OF SOVIET COMMUNISM. HIS GENUINE MANDATE, AS THE ONLY POPULARLY ELECTED NATIONAL LEADER IN RUSSIA'S HISTORY, MADE YELTSIN IRRESISTIBLE WHEN THE SOVIET ERA CAME TO ITS END. AT THAT TIME, A TIME OF TERRIBLE UNCERTAINTY ABOU THE FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY, THE CONGRESS OF PEOPLE'S DEPUTIES RELUCTANTLY GRANTED YELTSIN EXTRAORDINARY POWERS FOR ONE YEAR. THESE WERE REAL POWERS OF GOVERNANCE, WHICH YELTSIN AND GAYDAR HAVE USED AS BEST THEY COULD TO TRY TO BREAK THE LOCK-GRIP OF SOVIET INSTITUTIONS ON RUSSIAN SOCIETY. IN MANY WAYS, THEY SUCCEEDED; IN MANY, THEY FAILED.

THE PERIOD OF MORE OR LESS UNFETTERED PRESIDENTIAL POWER IS COMING TO A CLOSE - OR IT WILL CONTINUE ONLY IF YELTSIN RESORTS TO UNCONSTITUTIONAL MEANS. ... THEREFORE, BEFORE DECEMBER 1 YELTSIN HAS SOME FUNDAMENTAL DECISIONS TO MAKE. ...

IT IS FREQUENTLY REMARKED THAT YELTSIN HAS MUCH OF THE "MUZHIK" ABOUT HIM - MUCH OF THE BLUNTNESS, GUILE AND WIT OF THE RUSSIAN PEASANTRY. HE ALSO HAS A TALENT FOR COMMUNICATING WITH AND LISTENING TO THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE WHICH DIFFERENTIATES HIM FROM ALMOST ANY OF HIS PREDECESSORS IN THE MOSCOW KREMLIN. ...

YELTSIN'S ROLE AS RUSSIAN CHIEF OF STATE REMAINS UNASSAILABLE. ONLY THE REALLY HARDLINE ANTI-REFORM GROUPS ATTACK YELTSIN DIRECTLY. THE SELF-STYLED "CENTRISTS" (SUCH AS "CIVIC UNION") TREAT THE PRESIDENT AS AN ICON AND PROCLAIM THEIR DESIRE TO "HELP" HIM (BY TAKING OVER THE SENIOR POSITIONS OF HIS GOVERNMENT). YELTSIN IS, BY CHOICE, A PRESIDENT WITHOUT A POLITICAL PARTY - VERY MUCH ALONG CZARIST LINES. HIS LACK OF AN ORGANIZED POLITICAL BASE OF SUPPORT IS SOMETIMES A HANDICAP, BUT IT ALSO INCREASES HIS FLEXIBILITY. AS RUSSIA'S ELECTED CZAR (IN EFFECT), YELTSIN'S ROLE CAN BE CHALLENGED, BUT NOT YET SERIOUSLY THREATENED. YELTSIN'S PROBLEM HAS BEEN AND REMAINS ONE OF EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE, OF MAKING THINGS ACTUALLY WORK IN THE STRUCTURAL SHAMBLES HE INHERITED. ...

NOV 93
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0824
SUBJECT: CHARGE COLLINS' FAREWELL CALL ON [REDACTED, BUT CONTAINS THE TEXT "WATCH FOR SURPRISES"]

REGARDING THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS, [ ] SAID THERE IS A DANGEROUS MISUNDERSTANDING ON THE PART OF MANY THAT THE EVENTS OF OCTOBER 3 AND 4 HAVE PUT ALL REAL POLITICAL DANGER IN THE PAST. HE ADDED THAT THE APRIL REFERENDUM DEMONSTRATED THAT THE COMMUNISTS AND THE AGRICULTURAL PARTY (WHICH HE SAID WAS "ANOTHER WING OF THE COMMUNISTS") ENJOY SERIOUS SUPPORT IN RUSSIA. HE SAID THAT THE DEMOCRATS, AFTER THEIR "VICTORY", BEGAN TO BATTLE AMONG THEMSELVES AND HAVE SCATTERED INTO SEVERAL FACTIONS. HE NOTED FURTHER THAT, WHILE GOOD IN A CRISIS REQUIRING DECISIVE ACTION, THE DEMOCRATS QUICKLY BECAME DISORGANIZED. HE SAW THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS AS A BATTLE BETWEEN THESE DISORGANIZED DEMOCRATS AND THE COMMUNISTS.

APR 96
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5097
SUBJECT: APRIL THESES ON RUSSIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

TWO MONTHS BEFORE ELECTION DAY, THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ARE A RACE BETWEEN YELTSIN AND COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER ZYUGANOV. EACH HAS RALLIED HIS CORE CONSTITUENCY (ONE QUARTER OF THE ELECTORATE FOR ZYUGANOV, ONE-FIFTH FOR YELTSIN), AND THEY ARE CAMPAIGNING HARD FOR THE REMAINING FIFTY-FIVE PERCENT OF THE VOTERS. POLLS SUGGEST A RUNOFF BETWEEN THE TWO WOULD BE A TOSS UP. ...

AS [REDACTED]

RECENTLY TOLD POLOFF, "EVERYTHING ABOUT THE ELECTIONS IS CLEAR, EXCEPT THE RESULT." HE WAS BEING ONLY HALF FACETIOUS, AND IN A SENSE HE IS CORRECT. TWO MONTHS BEFORE ELECTION DAY, THE RACE HAS BOILED DOWN TO A TWO-MAN CONTEST BETWEEN YELTSIN AND COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER ZYUGANOV (AS BOTH OUR CONVERSATIONS IN MOSCOW AND TRIPS TO SEVERAL REGIONS SUGGEST). A RUNOFF IS ALMOST CERTAIN, BECAUSE, WITH OVER A DOZEN CANDIDATES IN THE RUNNING, NEITHER YELTSIN NOR ZYUGANOV IS LIKELY TO WIN IN THE FIRST ROUND. THE SECOND ROUND WILL BE CLOSE, AND THE RESULT WILL DEPEND ON HOW EFFECTIVELY YELTSIN AND ZYUGANOV CAMPAIGN AND WHAT SURPRISES - FOR EXAMPLE, A SERIOUS CHECHEN TERRORIST ATTACK IN MOSCOW, A MAJOR FINANCIAL CRISIS, THE SERIOUS ILLNESS OR DISABILITY OF A LEADING CANDIDATE - OCCUR, AND WHEN, BEFORE ELECTION DAY. ...

[REDACTED] HAVE TOLD US THAT THE CAMPAIGN CONTINUES TO SUFFER FROM SEVERE ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEMS. MANY STAFFERS ARE DEVOTING MORE ENERGY TO JOCKEYING FOR POSITION IN A SECOND YELTSIN ADMINISTRATION THAN TO ENSURING THAT THERE IS ONE. [REDACTED] TOLD POLOFF APRIL 18 THE PROBLEM WAS NOT SO MUCH INFIGHTING OVER POSITION AS THE STAFFERS' RADICALLY DIFFERENT VIEWS OF WHAT YELTSIN'S STRATEGY SHOULD BE. THE DIFFERENCES WERE PREVENTING TIMELY DECISION MAKING, A WORRISOME SITUATION GIVEN THE SHORT TIME LEFT BEFORE ELECTION DAY. [REDACTED] ...

IN ADDITION, THE COMMITMENT OF REGIONAL LEADERS TO YELTSIN REMAINS SUSPECT. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM BECAUSE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE MISSING GRASSROOTS PARTY ORGANIZATIONS IN MOBILIZING VOTERS.

[REDACTED]

ARGUES THAT THE DUMA ELECTIONS DEMONSTRATED YELTSIN COULD NOT DEPEND ON THE GOVERNORS. ... MOREOVER, [REDACTED] HAS SERIOUS CONCERNS ABOUT THE LOYALTIES OF MID-LEVEL FUNCTIONARIES, WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO CARRY THE BRUNT OF THE CAMPAIGN WORK OUTSIDE MOSCOW. THERE IS REASON FOR CONCERN: IN TRAVEL TO SIX OBLASTS OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, EMBOFFS HAVE FOUND LITTLE EVIDENCE OF A STRONG YELTSIN CAMPAIGN EFFORT AND NOT A LITTLE DEFEATISM AMONG PRO-YELTSIN REGIONAL LEADERS. ...

TWO MONTHS IS AN ETERNITY IN RUSSIAN POLITICS. MUCH COULD HAPPEN TO TIP THE BALANCE IN FAVOR OF YELTSIN OR ZYUGANOV, OR EVEN CREATE AN OPENING FOR A THIRD CANDIDATE TO ENTER THE SECOND ROUND. MOREOVER, AS THE MEDIA - AND OUR CONTACTS - BECOME MORE PARTISAN, IT WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO DISCERN THE TRUE STATE OF AFFAIRS FROM WILLFUL DISINFORMATION AND WISHFUL THINKING. ALTHOUGH THE STAKES ARE GREATER NOW THAN FOR THE DUMA ELECTIONS, SO ARE THE CHANCES OF BEING SURPRISED.

OCT 96
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6419
SUBJECT: REFLECTIONS ON STABILITY IN RUSSIA

[REDACTED ]

... FOURTH, THE OLIGARCHY HAS PROVEN ADEPT AT COWING AND COOPTING THE OPPOSITION. DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN, THE OLIGARCHY USED RUMORS, CONTROL OF THE MEDIA, AND DEMONSTRATIONS OF STRENGTH TO PERSUADE THE OPPOSITION THAT IT WOULD SPARE NO EFFORT, INCLUDING THE POSSIBLE RESORT TO FORCE, TO STAY IN POWER. SINCE THEN, A MINISTERIAL PORTFOLIO (IN A SECOND-ECHELON MINISTRY), REPORTEDLY SOME FINANCIAL BACKING FROM MAJOR BANKS, AND REGULAR MEETINGS WITH PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN HAVE COOLED THE COMMUNISTS' ARDOR FOR CONFRONTATION.

MOREOVER, THIS OLIGARCHY HAS DEMONSTRATED A TENACIOUS WILL TO POWER, IN STARK CONTRAST WITH THE RULING ELITE OF THE LATE SOVIET PERIOD.

[REDACTED]

THIS WILL TO POWER DERIVES IN LARGE PART FROM THE OLIGARCHY'S UNSWERVING FAITH IN ITS RIGHT TO RULE RUSSIA, BORN OF ITS ROUT OF THE SEEMINGLY ALL-POWERFUL CPSU IN THE LATE GORBACHEV PERIOD AND NOURISHED BY THE TIMIDITY AND MEDIOCRITY OF ITS OPPONENTS EVER SINCE.

INDEED, ONE FURTHER REASON FOR THE STABILITY OF THE CURRENT OLIGARCHY IS THE ABSENCE OF ANY SIGNIFICANT OR POTENTIALLY THREATENING COUNTERELITE. THE COMMUNIST PARTY HAS SHOWN LITTLE INCLINATION TO MOBILIZE THE WIDESPREAD DISCONTENT WITH YELTSIN'S POLICIES FOR POLITICAL GAIN. ...

IRONICALLY, ORGANIZED CRIME AND CORRUPTION ACT AS SAFETY VALVES AT A TIME WHEN STATE POWER IS CRUMBLING AND BUREAUCRACIES REMAIN UNRESPONSIVE.

ORGANIZED CRIME PROVIDES SOME SERVICES THAT THE GOVERNMENT WOULD IN ANY WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY SUCH AS PROTECTION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY AND ENFORCEMENT OF CONTRACTS. BRIBERY OFTEN PROVIDES AN EASIER ROUTE THROUGH THE BUREAUCRACY THAN FOLLOWING FORMAL PROCEDURES. BOTH CRIME AND CORRUPTION, MOREOVER, REINFORCE THE FRAGMENTATION OF SOCIETY, WHICH PROMOTES STABILITY.

IN SUM, RUSSIA IS MORE STABLE THAN MUCH COMMENTARY, ESPECIALLY IN THE WEST, WOULD SUGGEST. THIS STABILITY, HOWEVER, IS PRIMARILY NEGATIVE, GROUNDED IN SOCIO-ECONOMIC DECLINE, OR AT BEST STAGNATION, FOR MOST OF THE POPULATION THAT HAS ALLOWED A SMALL DYNAMIC AND PROGRESSIVE ELITE TO CONSOLIDATE ITS HOLD OVER THE LEVERS OF (DEGENERATING) POWER AND LEFT SOCIETY WITH FEW MEANS TO CHALLENGE THAT ELITE. [REDACTED] ...

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