Take me back to 1991. What was in the air? What was the atmosphere like?
What did the then still-Soviet people want?
He is a senior analyst for the Jamestown Foundation and writes from Moscow on
Russian domestic affairs. He was a writer with Voice of America and has worked
as a business columnist with The Moscow Times, and as Moscow
representative and program officer for Freedom House.
My experience in that period, in early '92, and I was here, again, for a longer
period, was that it was based mostly in Moscow, but you did have a sense that
there was a great openness and warmth toward the West and toward the United
States. That was obviously a reaction to what had been going on in the seven
previous decades. This was seen as the antithesis of the Soviet system.
People had spent a lot of time listening to Voice of America and Radio Liberty
and these sorts of things, and there was, at least among a sector of the
population--perhaps [you] might call it the intelligentsia--a hope that Western
values, democracy, a market system, could take root here. And the general
atmosphere was a very pro-Western sort of attitude on the part of the people,
at least here, in Moscow, and particularly among young people. . . .
You've written that the hopeful beginnings of the civil society that began
[to emerge] in 1990, by the end of '91, beginning of 1992, didn't last very
long, largely because of the economic policies that were almost immediately
Yeah. My sense of this is that the economic policies that were adopted here,
and that were encouraged by, for instance, the U.S. government and other
Western governments--the international financial institutions--these policies,
in and of themselves, were not bad. To create a market system, and to be a part
of the creation of a democratic, open society-- privatization, even--none of
these things were bad in and of themselves. It was simply the way that it was
actually executed here. In fact, it became apparent, at least to me, fairly
early on--and, you know, this is by simply following the Russian principle,
that many Russians were reporting, that what was supposed to be going on, which
was an empowerment of the average person, bringing him into a market system,
making him a stakeholder, et cetera--was not going on at all, but [that] there
was really kind of a large-scale heist going on of the former Soviet economy.
And a lot of people were talking about that, fairly early on in the process
here, but there was sort of cognitive dissonance about it in the West--that was
my feeling--for a long time.
Before we get to privatization, I also wanted you to address the effect that
rampant inflation had.
Yeah. That was a very disturbing thing. There are lots of technical reasons for
a lot [that] went on. It's not worth going into all them, but there was the
lifting of price controls at the beginning of 1992, which sparked a massive
inflation. The government at the time, which was led by Yegor Gaidar, didn't
hide the fact that [there would be inflation] but said prices would go up six
times or ten times, and they ended up going up 15, a 100 times, eventually.
That of course led to a massive impoverishment of the average person who had
saved during the Soviet period. Now, you can argue, of course, that savings
were based on an entirely sort of nonexistent, nonreal economy under the Soviet
system, but the fact is that this was their stakes, or a life of work. And you
had these people being impoverished, while, simultaneously, you had a group of
new Russian businessmen who rode the inflationary curve and became very rich as
a result of this. I remember, in 1993, one guy who was, actually, like many of
the new businessmen, a former scientist, very smart, savvy, English-speaking,
telling me--and he was not, I don't think, necessarily, a morally bad guy, like
some of the other oligarchs--but he basically said, "Look, inflation is
actually serving a useful purpose; it's taking the money away from people who
don't know what to do with it and putting it in the hands of people who do know
what to do with it." And of course he was, at this time, as far as I could
gather, brokering all these very shady oil deals, and deals for exporting other
natural resources and currency manipulations and he was doing very well at
But I remember, at the time, having a bit of a pause about this. I didn't
think that this kind of process would end up in a stable or democratic society.
There was sort of a low-level feeling of anxiety in the early days, which
became more pronounced as time went on.
Discuss voucher privatization and the U.S. role in that.
Voucher privatization was basically sort of a compromise that the government
and the then-parliament came up with, and it was ostensibly a way to get the
average person involved in the process and give them a stake in it. So each
received a privatization voucher. This is similar to what they did in
Czechoslovakia, in the Czech Republic, worth 10,000 rubles, face value, which
was their stake in the privatized, or privatizing Soviet economy, and it's now
become almost a legend. Anatoly Chubais, then the privatization czar, who was
running the privatization process, promised that these will be worth two Volga
cars. Well, in fact once inflation got through with them, they were worth a
couple of packs of Marlboros, essentially.
I remember seeing people selling [the vouchers] for 4,000 rubles, everywhere,
in the pedestrian crossings, in the subway stations. There was really very
little sense that this was their stake in the economy. But some people managed
to do very well, and there is a sense, of course, that insiders were able to
scoop up a lot of the vouchers and then to take them to the voucher
privatization auctions, where they won real stakes and real enterprises.
Of course, this whole process was pushed very heavily by the U.S. Government.
USAID ran--actually financed advertising campaigns on television-- saying,
"Your voucher, your choice," that actually was manipulated during the 1993
elections to become sort of a plug for the party led by Yegor Gaidar and
Anatoly Chubais. That was the sign that there was already a lot of this sort
of "dirty pool" going on. That was one of the early scandals involving
USAID-financed projects. But, again, there was an overall sort of reluctance
to look at these sorts of things, head-on, and a lot of it was simply explained
away, I think.
You mean an overall reluctance on the part of the U.S.?
Yeah. The sense was that it was always, "This is a transition period, things
go wrong there--there's a hiccup on the road, a bump on the road, the
transitional road." And this sort of became the mantra to explain away what I
increasingly was seeing as a systemic, endemic problem--sort of a worm at the
heart of this transition process.
And what was that worm?
Well, the worm was that the corruption was so ubiquitous that it simply
undermined any attempts to really create a genuine market system with popular
participation in it, that benefited the average person that helped develop
small business. And that is simply because most of the process [of creating a
market system] was run out of the Russian executive branch, controlled by the
Kremlin or the various ministries, with absolutely no oversight whatsoever.
And the oversight function--the only oversight function that was really going
on--was from the media, to a degree, and that was ignored. And it was also
ignored by the Western governments and financial institutions which were
supporting this process, which, at minimum, I think, somewhere along the line,
at many points along the line, should have been publicly saying, "Wait a
minute, this is not what we had in mind." But there was really a deafening
silence during voucher privatization and during even worse periods, later on in
privatization, where there were some much more egregious examples of
What did we think we were doing in the role of selling a program to the
It's hard for me to say. I think that some of the people involved in that
project were probably just simply naive and they thought because Jeffrey Sachs
or some other eminent economist had pushed this program, and it had apparently
worked in the Czech Republic (although there's some debate about that, too)
that, therefore, it was the right thing to do. And I think, at a higher level,
probably everything [else] was subsumed to support the Yeltsin administration
as being the only alternative to support in Russia. I think that was sort of
the essence of the Clinton administration foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia at
the time and, therefore, if you had that view, then you were simply going to
ignore all the negative data and accentuate only the positive. I think that's
what happened throughout.
I want you to address the fact that, among things that were not talked about
during voucher privatization, is that this didn't, in fact, include all of
Russia's richest resources and biggest companies.
That's right. A number of the most valuable assets of the Soviet era
economy--the so-called natural monopolies: the oil companies, metals companies,
metals works--were not included in voucher privatization. They would later be
basically handed out in a process called Loans For Shares, a few years later.
But, ex post facto, looking back on it, it seemed that the voucher process was
something more for show, and something to be able to say that you let the
average guy in on the process. But the real goodies were saved for later on.
I'm going to have to say, early on in the process--and this didn't even include
voucher privatization--one of the true, real benefits, and one of the only real
benefits that people got, I think, from the fall of the Soviet Union and the
transition to the new period, was they were allowed to privatize their
apartments. And that's good. It's not that much of an accomplishment, you
know, 10 years later. You would hope that the process would have gone further
than that. That was one tangible achievement. But the voucher process was
very questionable, and then, of course, when they really divided up the goodies
later on, it was scandalous.
The Loans For Shares process, which began in late 1995--the actual sell-offs
and auctions occurred in late 1995--was meant to be a process whereby the state
allowed certain banks, or whatever, to take over large chunks of these oil
companies and metal companies, sort of as in [a] trust, while they loaned money
for the government. That was where the name Loans For Shares came from. And,
later on, the government was either supposed to pay back the loan, or the
shares in the companies would revert to these banks. They didn't even have
competitive auctions initially slated, and even some of the people involved
said, "This is outrageous." So then they promised it was going to be open
auctions--open to foreigners as well--but that it would be a generally
But, one by one, various enterprises were struck off the list for
privatization. Then others were closed to foreign investors. And then came
the actual auctions and sell-offs. These occurred in the last few months of
1995, and were clearly, to anybody watching--even to the most cautious observer
who was not ready to jump to conclusions--clearly fixed. And it became fairly
clear, right after the first few, that the winner was known in advance, that
there had been collusion between the authorities and the winners about who was
going to win. It was a few of the insider banks, the biggest Russian banks who
had close connections with the Kremlin. And it even came out later that much
of the money which they bid--this was at least what the audit chamber, which is
one of Russia's sole sort of oversight institutions, [claimed]--that much of
the money that was bid by these banks had been deposited by the Finance
Ministry before the auctions.
So they were in fact bidding for these stakes in these companies with
government money. And of course the fiction that it was actually Loans For
Shares was a joke because the ownership of these factories and companies
eventually reverted to these banks, and it empowered a very small group of what
are known here, now, as oligarchs, who are these bankers....
When this process is complete, what is the effect?
The effect, first of all, was to simply consolidate the financial, economic
power of a very small group of insiders, who are these Kremlin-connected
bankers and financiers. By the way, I will add, there had been an earlier
"gravy train." A lot of these banks were called authorized banks because they
had been authorized by the Russian government to hold budget money because, in
the early days, the Russian government didn't have a federal Treasury. So they
simply named a few of these banks to become sort of the de facto Treasury. And
during the inflationary period, they used this money, and they would take it
and play financial speculative games with it--earn a lot of money. Some argue
that they even stole quite a bit of it too. And that gave them the first sort
of level of empowerment. Then you had the Loans For Shares process which gave
them actual stakeholdings in the industrial infrastructure of the country. And
then the next step, basically, was for them to really become politically
empowered, and that happened in 1996, where they banded together and bought
Was there a connection between Loans For Shares--giving a bunch a money to
these oligarchs--and the '96 election?
There seems to be a connection both in terms of chronology and time, and just
in terms of a logical connection. You had these oligarchs getting these huge
pieces of major industrial enterprises, and then, within about six to eight
months, you had the presidential race.
During that period, during the run-up to the presidential race in June '96,
Yeltsin was campaigning against his main opponent. Gennady Zyuganov, the head
of the Communist Party, and there was a sense--and there's some, I think,
tangible evidence of this--that the spending was beyond belief. There were
massive promises to the workers. Suddenly, wages and pensions, which hadn't
been paid for months and months, get paid off, and there's massive advertising
on TV and on radio, and there's non-paid advertising, there's just hagiographic
news coverage. But all this costs money. The sense is that I do you a favor,
you do me a favor. That's the way things get done in Russia.
So there was a sense that the oligarchs got their stakes, and then they gave
back by financing the Yeltsin campaign. Some of the estimates are that the
money spent by the Yeltsin campaign was a $100 to $300 million, when the
official spending limits were $3 million. It was clear, during the campaign,
that the executive branch and the Kremlin had just had a preponderance of
advantages over anybody, and, in that sense, it wasn't really a fair,
. . . [Yeltsin] may have won anyway. Zyuganov was not a very attractive
candidate. The Communist Party, the Russian Federation, has a certain stable
support, but it's down there around 30 percent. He might have won anyway. But
that sort of begs the question. The fact is that still the conditions were
completely unequal. Yeltsin had a preponderance of advantages based on his
being the chief executive and having the support of the tycoons. Of course,
there was a sense that [the tycoons] wanted to ensure that the status quo would
remain, that the Communists wouldn't come to power because they might start
revisiting privatization and questioning whether it was done legally, and
therefore undoing some of those privatizations. They didn't want that to
happen. The oligarchs didn't want that to happen. So that was clearly the
basis of their support [for Yeltsin] . . . .
Now we've skipped over, or left out, any discussion about the U.S. and U.S.
policy during this time.
Yeah. The one thing that has always struck me, particularly, as a person who
covered the Loans For Shares scheme as a journalist, number one, and number
two, as a person who believed basically that privatization is a good
thing--depending upon how it's done--was, during the months that these auctions
were going on, the deafening silence from the U.S. government, from the
international lending institutions like the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund, from other Western governments, basically from Western
It was clear to anybody watching this process--it was being openly said in the
Russian press, and to a degree in the Western press too--I was saying it,
pretty much--that it was a rigged, fixed process. And you would have thought
that, at some point, someone would have said, "Hey, guys, look--this is not
what we had in mind. This is not a step towards creating an open, democratic,
and genuinely competitive market economy. This is a real heist." But there
wasn't. Nothing was said, on the record, that I recall. I think some U.S.
government officials have subsequently claimed that they raised questions about
it but I recall none, publicly.
And this heist is involving at least some of the people that we continue to
call the reformers.
Absolutely. I mean, at the time of the Loans For Shares process, Anatoly
Chubais, who had been the privatization czar during the early voucher
privatization process, was now Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy.
I watched his reaction to this very closely, and he justified it throughout.
And not only did he justify it throughout, but it was simply clear from reports
in the Russian press, that he had been one of the people who had pushed the
idea of the process. Now, granted, he had said prior to the auctions that we're
going to make sure that they're open and they're fair. But when they were
patently not so, not only did he not say anything about it, but he accused some
of the banks--some of the banks who lost out in the process were complaining
that it was a farce--of being shills for hidden Western investors. . . . He
subsequently actually admitted, "Look, my choice at that time was either to go
toward instituting bandit capitalism, or robber baron capitalism, or communism,
and I picked the former." It's not an exact quote but it was something along
those lines. So he made his choice. He was the man with whom the American
government was doing business in terms of Russian economic reform, and nobody
in Washington said boo about this.
How did US policy get so tied up with what others have called just one clan?
How is it that we got hooked up with this one small group and they were the
reformers, and no one and nothing else was?
It's a complicated question. I think that it works on various levels. On one
level this clan--you can call it the Chubais clan--but the people who were led
by him, and who surrounded him, I think cultivated this. In other words, a
number of them were and are intelligent people--English-speaking, Western.
They cultivated a Western outlook at any rate. That's what they liked to
present to the West, and I think they saw their empowerment in cultivating
Western officialdom, including in Washington. So they appealed to these people
by speaking their language. That's on one level. On a second level, I think
that it's just a case of being unable to retreat from a bad policy. In other
words, once you're in, once you've staked on these people, it becomes very hard
to admit that you might have made a mistake, and then, politically, and
institutionally, your entire policy becomes dependent upon this particular
group of people . . . .
So I think it's that combination. I think the first one is very important. I
think that the Chubais clan, other members of the Yeltsin government, who were
identified as "younger reformers," worked very hard to cultivate Western
government officials, Western media. And I think the media element was very
important because the mainstream Western media didn't so much have the policy
stake, but they did develop sort of an intellectual stake in these guys. And I
watched for a few years, and I was kind of appalled, by the way a lot of the
mainstream Western media simply would not hear a bad word about these guys. It
became sort of an article of faith.
When you say that [the Yeltsin government] knew--they cultivated the U.S.
government--I assume that they knew how to "play us" as well?
Yeah, I think that's what it was. They knew how to say the right things. They
talked the talk. Frankly, if you look at, for instance, many of Anatoly
Chubais's declarative statements, over the years, I wouldn't object to many of
them. He said many times that he's for the development of small business and
he even, later on, talked about rule of law, and those sorts of things. It's
just that in Russia the gap between rhetoric and practice is gigantic. It's
true everywhere, but it's particularly gigantic here. They knew the right
things to say to the right people in the West, and it really built up an
incredible amount of support and loyalty to them. Even, I think, far beyond
the time when there should have been eyebrows raised about these guys.
And [the Yeltsin government] knew how to raise the right bogeymen
That's right. I'd be the last person in the world to say that I hoped someone
like Zyuganov came to power. But I, very early on, got the distinct feeling
that the Russian Communist Party was such a party of losers, that they really
never had a chance of coming to power, but that they served a very, very
convenient role for the Kremlin of being the bogeyman. In other words, every
time the Western politicians and officials might start to ask questions about
what's going on in Moscow with privatization and hints of corruption and all
this kind of stuff, they would raise Zyuganov and say, "You want this guy in
the Kremlin? You want this guy's finger on the button?" That became a very,
very useful way of maintaining American support, and they played us like a
violin in that respect.
How much did this have to do with the reluctance to admit that the policy
might be having problems, if not failing?
Russia was the centerpiece for the Clinton administration's foreign policy.
You had the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, which was set up between Vice
President Al Gore and then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, which was to
basically organize the trade links and business links and political links
between the two countries....
Did we, in the end, call, continue to call Yeltsin, and cheerlead for
Yeltsin as a democrat and a reformer far after [we had reason to think he
Absolutely. The first questions probably should have been raised in the
October 1993 parliamentary uprising which Yeltsin crushed with force. That was
a murky affair in the sense that the people who led the rebellion were
unattractive, to put it mildly. But, at the same time, the ruthlessness with
which it was put down should have been a signal to Washington, to other Western
governments, that there was more than an authoritarian streak in Boris Yeltsin
and in his administration. But we had already staked on Yeltsin, and several
months after that rebellion was crushed, we basically signed off on the new
December 1993 constitution which enshrined near-authoritarian powers in the
Russian presidency. In that sense, we were saying, at that point, [that] our
policy towards Russia is Boris Yeltsin. He is the embodiment of our policy in
Russia. We were picking individuals.
What was our policy? Was it honestly to promote, to try to help this
country become a democracy?
. . . I think there was a sense--it was sort of a combination of arrogance and
naivete--that we could just plug in our model of a market democracy. Sort of
like a tape player, you just plug it and turn it on, and it works, and
everything is fine. And we also thought that there was just no way that the
Russians themselves wouldn't like it. Of course it didn't turn out the way it
should have turned out, if we were genuinely concerned about developing a real
democratic state. . . . The result was, probably on some levels, the American
government became cynical. But, I think a lot of it was just really based on
this combination of arrogance and naivete that it would be that easy to do, and
it didn't turn out that way.
So we're cheering and, basically, by the end of '96 the oligarchs have
cemented their power over much of the government.
That's right. I think by '96, it was fairly well cemented. The oligarchs are
always fighting with each other. They continued to fight with each other
through '97, and they're still doing it right now. But that's the kind of
system [that it is]. It's a system of competing oligarchical groups. But that
kind of plurality is not the same thing as a democratic pluralistic system. I
think that once the '96 election was finished, it was pretty much clear the
direction Russia was headed. There were no more questions anymore.
What about the Clinton administration defense that they had no choice?
Boris Yeltsin was the democratically elected leader of this country, and of
course they had to deal with Boris Yeltsin. That's what governments do.
That can sort of become the fallback position for defending any policy. I
don't rule out the possibility that the way things turned out might have been
inevitable, but I don't really know that, and whatever leverage we had, I think
there was more than ample room to try to use it. For instance, there is still
talk that the 1993 referendum, in December 1993, which was held simultaneously
with parliamentary elections, and which approved the constitution, which Russia
now operates under, was rigged. That constitution basically gives Yeltsin
nearly dictatorial powers, or, certainly, authoritarian powers, and there were
a lot of good democrats back then who were questioning whether this is the
right thing to do. They said, "Even if you like Yeltsin, what if somebody else
So we could have said something back then. We could have said, even in a
diplomatic way, that we would approve something less where there was more
respect for the separation of powers. So, no, I think that's a copout. I think
that there was room for skillfully trying to push the Russian government, as
long as the Russian government was a recipient of aid, the basis of which was
that it was moving toward a democratic form of government. There was room to
try to push them more in that direction. And it was never ever tried as far as
I could see.
What has Russia become in these ten years?
It's a peculiar thing. I think there's several ways of looking at it. On one
level, it's become something very much resembling a Third World
quasi-authoritarian corrupt regime, sort of a regime that resembles Latin
American regimes of old. Number two, it's a highly criminalized system. In
other words, the power of organized crime--which sort of merges into the
regional bosses, and governments, and local governments--this mish-mash of the
security services and organized crime is a salient feature of the new
On the other hand, I think that people underestimate the degree to which
there's great continuity between this system and the old system. One thing
that's often overlooked is that the Yeltsin Kremlin basically nationalized
billions of dollars worth of property owned by the Soviet Communist Party. It
held on to it. It made the Kremlin administration one of the biggest property
holders in the country--billions of dollars worth of property--and uses this
property to provide the 12,500 top officials of the Russian state with basics
like apartments and transportation and rest homes, and vacation resorts. This
is exactly the way the Soviet Communist Party nomenklatura operated. Just that
aspect of it always astounded me. Why doesn't anybody bring this up?
Shouldn't this [have] been a subject of demarche by Washington or Western
governments? But it was overlooked.
What about ordinary people?
I think that for a lot of ordinary people, the situation either hasn't changed
or it's gotten worse. I think there are pockets where it's probably gotten
better. At least before the 1998 crash, [they] shuttle-traded because the
borders were open, people could travel abroad, buy cheap textiles in Turkey or
in the United Arab Emirates, order goods there, bring 'em back, sell it. So
there was a lot of moonlighting going on. There was a huge underground economy
and so a lot of people had more than they would appear to have on the surface.
Of course a lot of people were decimated by what happened, by inflation, first
of all, in the early '90s, and then the crash in August 1998 reduced people's
standards of living by 30 percent or more in one fell swoop.
However you do the math, at the end, I think it's a really sort of pathetic and
sad result, that even if it's slightly improved over the Soviet Union, that it
only came this far in ten years. And I would add that in certain ways it's
already moving backward. In other words, I would say that the area of press
freedom is worse than it was during the late Gorbachev period now, and the
trend line appears to be moving in an even worse direction. So it's a mixed
picture, at best.
How much of the failures can be blamed on misguided U.S. policy?
Again, I don't know. It's a hard thing, in the end, to say whether it would
have been different, depending upon the role the U.S. government had played,
and the kind of advice that it gave. I think I've gotten, sadly, in a sense,
sort of a renewed appreciation for the huge role that sort of historical legacy
and historical baggage plays in development.
In other words, Russia has had an authoritarian system of governance for
centuries. It had the experience with Soviet style communism for seven decades
prior to this. It makes it very difficult for the kinds of things one would
hope to see happen. But, again, I think that is sort of an irrelevant
question. If we were going to pursue a policy where we were going to be that
intimately involved in the internal politics and economics of the country, we
should have insisted that what we hoped to happen happened. And if it didn't
happen, we should have publicly spoken out against it.
Now we're in the year 2000. A couple of months ago Yeltsin resigned and
anointed a successor. Why does Putin seem to appeal to so many people at this
point in time?
I think Putin's appeal is less a function of his personal qualities than the
situation which he inherited. It's partially a function of his personal
qualities, the main quality being that he is a career KGB officer, a member of
the state security apparatus. That's a plus in the current environment, and
the reason is because of the events of the fall of 1999. When the second
conflict in Chechnya started, [it] really changed the direction [of popular
opinion]. It was sort of a watershed in the direction of Russian public
consciousness, if you like. A lot of things which had been brewing around
became crystallized then. A desire for a firm hand, rallying around an
external enemy. And this was skillfully played up by the people who put Putin
in power. Therefore, he's become sort of the rallying point for this new, more
nationalistic, and I would say more authoritarian, direction of society.
But that seems to be, at least at this point, being welcomed by a majority,
or close to a majority.
I think it's welcomed by a majority. Unfortunately, again, much of it is
because what the average Russian person saw in terms of "democracy." What
they were told was Western style or American style democracy and the market
system, didn't do anything for them. Therefore, there's an obvious rejection
of that on the part of a lot of Russians. Secondly, the events of last fall,
which led up to the second Chechen war, I think galvanized a lot of the
public--those were the apartment building bombings--and that served as a sort
of watershed to crystallize this more nationalistic, somewhat more anti-Western
and more authoritarian direction.
Who are the people who put Putin in power?
One has the sense, and one gets the sense of this from Russian reporting and
the media, that he was the choice of at least parts of the political and
business elite, the oligarchs, members of the Kremlin inner circle, the inner
circle of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, which became known last year as The
Family. That these guys finally sort of landed on him as the guy who could be
the person to guarantee what one of them . . . refers to as "the continuity of
power." . . . They were looking for a figure who could guarantee [continuity
of power]. I don't think all of them necessarily agreed on [Putin] as the
figure. There was a lot of fighting over that, but he became the default
Once again, they are looking to preserve the status quo.
I think that's absolutely the case. There's a lot of arguments that Putin
[will not preserve the status quo] because of a lot of things he's declared in
the run-up to the election on March 26th--that he may change the rules of the
game, he's going to make it one set of rules for everybody, the oligarchs are
not going to have any special favors anymore--but I've heard this tune a
million times, and it doesn't strike me as particularly realistic. Individual
oligarchs may get thrown by the wayside for sort of a popular gesture, for
reasons of internal political maneuvering, but my sense is that the system will
not fundamentally change, and that Putin represents an attempt to preserve the
status quo . . . .
I have no information about this whatsoever, per se, but it strikes me as
almost an obviously logical necessity, that when they were looking for someone
to serve as Boris Yeltsin's successor, they had to find someone who somehow had
a weakness, or was somehow dependent upon them. So my question is what do they
have on him? Because I simply cannot believe that the very, very, very smart
power brokers who have been climbing to power over the last 10 years, would
have [put] Russia's very powerful chief executive position in the hands of
someone that they didn't have something on. Because for them, power's too
important to hand it over to just anybody....
During the last two-plus months, essentially since New Year's Eve, I've
gotten the clear sense from almost every Russian that I've talked to, that
something has come to an end, not just Yeltsin's era, not just Yeltsin himself,
but something larger.
Yeah, I think I [agree], to some degree. In other words, that same feeling that
I detected in the early '90s, which was this sort of openness to the
West--Russia has, through its history, had these swings from Westernizers to
Slavophiles, and from pro-Western to anti-Western sentiment, and in a number of
cases the door, at some point, was shut on the West. I'm not sure it's shut
completely, but it's certainly moving much more in that direction than it has
at any time in the last 10 years. I have the distinct feeling that the last
vestiges of sort of looking to the West as a model, or looking to the United
States as a model, are pretty much over except in a small, maybe 10 percent
segment of the population, among the intelligentsia. But otherwise, I think
that those days are pretty much over.
And what you've written as the moral authority that the U.S. built up over
the cold war has been squandered.
I think it's been pretty much squandered, unfortunately, and I think it's,
again, because of the feeling that we invested all our trust, faith, and money
in a corrupt system, and that was obviously bound not to win us the gratitude
of a majority of the Russian people, unfortunately.
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