What do your friends and your contacts in Russia think about what is
happening now--what is going to happen in the next few months?
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1994-1997.
I think there is a lot of anxiety. I think many Russians are finally coming to
grips with the fact that their country has declined drastically over the past
I mean, look at Putin's internet message at the end of last year, which I think
laid that out in very great detail. But I think, one, Russians are willing to
accept that now. Whereas, they wouldn't have accepted it, say, 3 or 4 years
ago--at least the radical reform elements. Those who were pro reform would not
have accepted it. So they understand that. They understand that unless they
begin to rebuild their country that they are not going to be able to enjoy the
status in world affairs that they think is due Russia.
Now, the real question, I think, is to what extent Russian political elites
are prepared to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to begin to rebuild
that country and how they would see those sacrifices. The fact of the matter
is that the Russian political elites over the past decade have enriched
themselves by preying on a weak state. They really don't have an interest in a
strong state, for all the rhetoric about the need for a strong state.
Are they going to change at this point? I think that is an open question. I
think they have at this point a lot of anxieties about Putin, in part because
to a certain extent they made him a political leader, but they don't know
whether they can control him and they don't know what this type of figure, who
is possibly uncontrolled, means for this system that has developed. Will he be
able to find sources of support--particularly in the institutions of
coercion--that will allow him to discipline this elite, and, in fact, build the
strong state that this elite says they want, but at their expense?
A lot of the people I'm talking to feel that an era is over. It's not that
the Yeltsin era is over, but this bigger moment in history is over, at least
for the time being. Do you think that's true?
She is an independent journalist and the author of KGB: State Within a
I think that definitely this stage of chaotic democracy is over, this
post-Soviet epoch is over. I do think that we're getting into the stage of the
authoritarian state. I hope that it's not going to be as unhuman as the Soviet
Union was. But I don't expect that Russia will keep going on the road of
democracy from now on.
Probably it will take another generation, probably the generation of my
daughter or her kids, to take another stand for creating some civilized and
democratic society in Russia. From that perspective, yes, I do think that the
great epoch of great hopes and great illusions is over.
Unfortunately, probably, I'm not going to live long enough to see Russia as a
truly democratic state. But after all, back 15 years ago I never expected to
have even a possibility to travel and study abroad, to become an independent
journalist and independent political analyst.
From that perspective, I think I got a gift I never expected to get. And the
fact that I probably dreamed to have more for my country and it's not going to
happen in my life--okay, you know, there are a lot of false expectations, and
this probably is not going to happen. I'm still grateful that I lived long
enough to see the end of the Soviet Empire. It's not a bad outcome for one's
When you say you think that things will be authoritarian, that it's becoming
that way and will be for a while, what's that going to look like in Russia in
In fact, there are a lot of examples in Latin America. Look at Mexico,
basically a one-party system, semi-democratic elections. Or one even can say
that it's a bit fake elections--big state, huge corruption. This is one
I think the best bet is to have something like Chile under Pinochet--where you
have a strong leader who didn't think twice to kill his opponents, but who did
his best in order to open the country and to promote economic reforms that made
Chile now one of the fastest growing nations in the Latin America. And then
there are examples like Paraguay and Columbia...I mean the authoritarian regime
trapped into crimes, trapped into organized crimes. No real contested
elections--democracy that comes every four years just to make the next, or the
same, president look legitimate. And huge gap between those who are rich and
those who are poor.
What has Russia become?
He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from
I think Russia has become in many ways, something of a replica of what it was
before the Soviet era. There's a great deal about Russia in the year 2000 that
is very similar to the Russia of the year 1900--some of the same basic
questions. What are the appropriate relationships between executive power and
legislative and legal power? What is the relative balance between central
power and regional and local power? How do you deal with the problem of the
land, of agriculture and the peasantry? What is the relative role of domestic
capital versus foreign capital? How much does Russia want to be like the West?
How much does it want to maintain an adherence to its own cultural roots and
traditions? How is Russia different from the West? How is Russia to be
integrated with the West?
Those questions existed in Russia long before the Bolshevik Revolution and I
think, in my own view, most of the 20th century for Russia has been almost lost
time; they went down this terribly wrong road during the Soviet period, where
many achievements obviously were made. Huge human costs were paid and
ultimately, at the end of the century, they're dealing with most of the same
questions that they faced at the beginning of the century.
So, I think the 21st century for Russia is going to be trying to really deal
with some of the problems that never got settled in the 20th.
I think Russia is definitely on the way to being a normal market economy and
democracy. These 15 years of transition are not yet finished, so we have
another 5-10 years of transition. But it's clearly in the right direction, and
now nobody believes that there can be a u-turn, so this is a positive thing.
He is a former Russian Finance Minister (1993-1994).
It's clear that in Russia, despite all these scandals and ugly things, there is
different type of life where people have their own houses and flats, where a
lot of businesses basically thrive, where people drink more and more mineral
water and less vodka--which is also a good sign--where lots of people try to
get education outside the country. ...Now you have hundreds and hundreds of
young people going around Moscow in the job market with CVs full of very
interesting credentials, and thousands of children and young people are now
starting in the West.
It's clear that there are lots of signs that what we see in the official
statistics or IMF statistics is just the pinnacle of the iceberg . Russia is
much bigger, and its economy is much richer than people suspect ...
...Slowly these market forces are finding their way. People are building
houses. People are creating businesses. People are thinking differently, and
demographics work in this way. That's way I'm moderately optimistic
medium-term, because definitely we go more or less in the right direction. The
question is the pace. The question is the cost. The question is the price
that the older people who cannot adapt themselves to the new situation pay.
And that's not very nice, definitely.
And I think that obviously Russia faces quite a nice future in the 21st
century. 20th century was not our century. We had only all these wars, civil
wars, revolutions, purges, collectivizations, scandals, corruption. Probably
this century will be the century of Russia, and I don't believe all these
dismal predictions that Russia will never get out of it, because it's
absolutely clear that our country can rejuvenate itself, regenerate, even with
the losses of millions of people who died with that century or emigrated. We
feel that there is new life coming, and if we were more civilized and do thing
better, probably more people would see it.
It is clear that people don't like many things that happen in Russia. People
probably hate a lot of them. But still they don't want to go back to the old
communist system. And with all their disillusions, they will be criticizing
government, they will be criticizing the president, but they don't think that
the basic direction is wrong. That's my opinion.
What are your biggest concerns?
He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in
both his government and journalism careers.
Well, for one thing, democracy in and of itself, which is to say, the
institutions of election, doesn't guarantee that it's always going to produce
leaders who will take a country in a constructive direction, in this case, one
that the United States would support. You can have what's sometimes called
illiberal democracy; that is, democratic elections that produce leaders who do
things that are dangerous for the world, and bad for their own people. And it
would be wildly premature to be complacent about what will happen to Russia
over the long haul.
There's also, of course, the haunting and deeply disturbing issue of Chechnya,
which figures not only in Boris Yeltsin's last year in the Presidency, but also
mid-term, as it were, in the '94 to '96 period. Chechnya has brought some of
the worst features of the Russian past, and the Russian political habits. Most
notably the tendency that kind of ran amuck during the Soviet period to
categorize entire groups of people as enemies, enemies of the state.
That is a part of the curse of the 20th century for Russia in its Soviet
period, and it's been part of what's come back in Chechnya. And President
Yeltsin bears a lot of responsibility for that, in both of the Chechnyan wars
that he oversaw.
We are going backwards right now. We are not valuing freedom, we don't value
the open window. We value the closed door of order. We are paying for the
original sins of Yeltsin and the democrats--and our own hopes.
The author of Yeltsin's Russia: Myths and Reality, she is senior
associate in the Carnegie Endowment's Russian and Eurasian Program, and a
former deputy director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and
Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
... Not only is Yeltsin gone--practically nobody talks about him anymore-- we
are saying goodbye to a whole generation of political leaders, politicians who
had hope. ... The next generation grew up during the Gorbachev and the early
Yeltsin period. They are not romantics; they are realists. They have already
lived through the financial collapse of 1998. They know what the West is all
about, no illusions there. They know all about Russia: corruption, gangs,
criminality, how politicians can be bought. They have no illusions. They are
not romantics, and they won't be romantics. They are brusque, aggressive,
dynamic people. They will definitely make fewer mistakes, but there is one
problem. Very many of them are encountering Chechnya now, very many of them
are enduring this period of disappointment, frustration, lack of belief in
anything, a period of cynicism.
And we don't know how this generation will emerge from the fire of cynicism
and violence. They could be people without constraints, free people, who would
begin building Russia from the ground up, discarding the autocracy, checking it
into a closet. On the other hand, they could get imbued with new constraints,
new disgraces, with a desire to get even with the complacency of the West, with
its double standard. Who will prevail among them? People full of hatred? Or,
free, pragmatic ones, cynical but at the same time willing to live life
according to the rules that are the same for everybody. This is a big
And Chechnya--you have an even deeper fear about what this could do to
I am afraid that Chechnya, instead of curing our complexes, restoring our
honor, instead of helping us become valuable, accomplished citizens, Chechnya
will bring even more bitterness, fears, disappointment, a new inferiority
complex, because Chechnya is to last for a long time. And a new desire to get
even. But with whom then?
Chechnya is Russia's tragedy. It is a tragedy because in 1996, seventy percent
of the Russian people were against the war. Today, in 2000, seventy percent
support the war. How we have changed during these years! How angry and
limited we have become! How afraid we are of the future! And, again, we want
to build a country based on force. We want to be feared--not loved, but
feared. This is what I call the syndrome of the past, return to the past.
Maybe it is temporary. But for every return to the past we pay a price. Now
we are paying with blood.
...Russia has deteriorated. I'm not sure if a Westerner can understand the
degradation of a country. It's deteriorated both politically and socially. Not
because in the past we boasted some ideals and a spiritual life, and then the
country opened and the West, which has no spirituality, pushed its phony values
down our throats. That's what our "patriots" love to say. The reason for this
degradation is that the leaders were pursuing their own interests instead of
educating the people. Everything has been destroyed. The education system,
culture, absolutely everything.
He was Boris Yeltsin's press secretary from 1991-1993 and was a journalist
with Komsomolskaya Pravda.
... If I were to project what kind of country Russia will be for the next ten
years, I'd say it would be a pseudo-democratic state. An authoritarian country
with a controlled parliament and an intimidated population. A country in which
agencies like the KGB will be on the rise, where the military will enjoy an
elevated status, a country that will continue to play this game: on the one
hand, we want to be friends with the West, on the other - we are this unique
nation, historically unique and different from the West.
Ordinary Westerners will always be confused--is Russia a friend or is it an
enemy? That's what we are going to live through. The Versaille syndrome. The
same old thing. There is nothing new happening in Russia. Russia is going
through what other nations --big and small--have gone through after a time of
upheaval. Back then, it was defeat in war, but in Russia it was defeat in
domestic politics, which, in Russia's case, was just like a war.
I see Russia is becoming a strange country. On the one hand, you see a
democratic country where we have a parliamentary system and our deputies have a
say, we have an elected president. But all of this is only a symbol of
democracy. Society itself is not free, its spirit is not free. There is no
ROGINSKY: . . . You see, we are painting everything in dark and morbid
colors. And if we are to answer your questions precisely, this is indeed what
we should be doing. But I am full of optimism. It's the most important thing.
We live in a country that is completely different from the one where we first
met. Today, there are young people who have learned foreign languages , and
they are persistent about learning foreign languages. They don't want to go to
war, they want to do science, business, you name it.
... None of them wants the Iron Curtain back. There are many young people
with this mindset now, lots of them. They are completely different. They are
not very active politically because they've had freedom. If they ever face
losing it, they will become politically active. This is our hope. Thousands and
thousands of grassroots organizations have sprung up around the country over
the past years. Our government doesn't listen very much to grassroots
organizations, but these organizations got the government used to the idea that
they exist. They are the beginnings of civil society in Russia. This is
extremely important, because we didn't have civil society before.. . . Our
'Memorial' is active in 65 regions. They exist in one form or another, engaging
in arguments and disputes with the government. People organize themselves in
the face of various dangers. This gives us grounds for optimism. They have some
influence in the cities.
So, despite the fact that the general trend is going in an unfavorable
direction and the situation is dangerous and alarming, if we look forward a bit
then everything will turn out ok, because we have a new generation of people
and they won't allow this country to turn back, or they won't allow it to
become distorted. You understand? I believe in this, I absolutely believe in
KOVALEV: I agree with Arseny. I only want to give a brief quote from a poem,
"it's a pity we won't be able to live in this wonderful time".
ROGINSKY: This is not true.
KOVALEV: We live in a different country, you are right. But, I would put it
like this: "I'll remain a dark pessimist for the next four-five years but in
10-15 years when Russia becomes a civilized country -- and there's no way
around it -- I won't be around."
ROGINSKY: You'll be around.
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