R E T U R N   O F   T H E   C Z A R
homewho is putin?yeltsin legacywhither russiainterviewsdiscussion
photo of Yevgenia AlbatsYevgenia Albats

She is an independent journalist and the author of KGB: State Within a State.
Describe your own feelings, and the expectations that everyone had of Yeltsin, immediately after the putsch in August of 1991.

I was running around Moscow on the last night of the coup, August 21. The city was dark. There were a lot of people on the streets. And I remember this very strong feeling that I lived through the best days of my life. Absolutely. It was such a great sense of victory, probably the first time in my journalistic life that I felt so tied to the people of the streets, and this amazing feeling--we did it.

But still it was true that tanks were on the streets of Moscow. My newspaper, Moscow News, the frontline newspaper of the years of perestroika, was surrounded by the armed tanks. We expected Special Forces soldiers to come into our building any time. We did expect to go into prison.

We really believed that there were very little chances to win, because it was . . . the leaders of the most powerful institutions existing in the Soviet Union who ran this coup. The president of the country, Mr. Gorbachev, was arrested. And clearly, we had not even dreams that we were going to win.

. . . We found a bottle of cognac in the editor-in-chief's office. Of course opened it. It was like, "Okay, in a couple of hours, we're going to be arrested." So we drank for all those great years of perestroika. It seemed that there was no chance to have this victory, but it happened. It was a miracle.

With regard to Yeltsin, now we know that he was drunk most of those days. Now we know that our great "democrats" set up festive tables in the basement of the White House, and drank and ate, while ordinary people were preparing to die for them outside the walls of the Russian Parliament building.

But back then, we didn't know about that. Back then, we knew that Boris Yeltsin took a stand against putsches. . . . He was the one who consciously rejected the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the place where he grew up as a politician, and he'd decided to stand with us for the new Russia.

. . . After those events, he became our leader.

And what were your expectations? What was going to happen in the country after this victory?

As with many others, I did expect some sort of a miracle to happen. I really believed that we got a chance to create a democratic state in our unlawful, undemocratic country. . . . I expected that Russian Parliament would pass needed new amendments to the Constitution. I expected that those democrats who came into power were going to do their best to establish the rule of law in the country.

At the time, the very word, "law," became sort of a fashion. People on the streets and in the villages started to talk in terms of law, in a country where law never existed.

And unfortunately, right after the August events, democrats got involved in dividing the great piece of property of the then-Soviet Union, of Russia. They were involved in dividing offices that formerly belonged to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and deciding who was going to get the crystal plates and china.

After Yeltsin resigned in December '99, there was created a pure monarchial type of transfer of power.  Once again, it appeared that Yeltsin was a czar. . . . In late December, 1991, we got the first clear-cut sign that our great new democratic leaders were not going to go by the letter of law, but rather by the letter of some sort of Byzantine-style, under-the-carpet politics. In late December, 1991, all of a sudden, all of us were told that the Soviet Union no longer existed.

Obviously, we were in favor of dissolving the last empire, the Soviet Union. But the way it happened was so shameful. It was such a clear sign of no respect to the public opinion and to the citizens of the country. No one ever asked us, "What do we think about this?"

During the night, they took the flag of the Soviet Union down. They took all the symbols of the country of which we were citizens--we were citizens of the Soviet Union--and then just told us that the Soviet Union no longer existed. Consciously I was, of course, all in favor of the dissolution of the empire. I just wanted them to ask me whether I agree with this or not. It was the first sign.

Much later, it was said that there was a choice between communism or corrupt capitalism. Is that what seemed to be operating, even in the relatively early days?

Yes. I think it started right away. It was very difficult to believe that those people who took a stand against the most powerful state . . . that they happened to be just silly, simple-minded thieves.

But I think that. And when I was a member of the commission that investigated the KGB role in the August 1991 putsch, it was the question we discussed. Some of those long-standing democrats presented themselves as very, very pragmatic people. Because of that pragmatism, the KGB, in fact, never got eliminated from the Russian surface, as happened in the Czech Republic, and as happened in the German Republic, and in Poland, et cetera.

I think that their approach was "Russia is a backward country in terms of rule of law, democracy, et cetera,"--and that's true--"Thus our task is to fool the rank and file--to do what we consider right, but not to tell them what we are going to do."

I think they consciously chose . . . corruption as the way to escape social cleavages, and cleavages among the elites. I do think that choice was made consciously. I do think that this question was discussed with the foreign advisors.

Would you discuss your views on the failures or troubles within Russia that also pointed up failures in U.S. policy? What about the events in the fall of 1993?

In September, 1993, when President Yeltsin violated the Russian Constitution, violated the Russia, the law on presidents, and violated a couple of other laws by dissolving the Parliament, it was the last crush of the whole idea of the rule of law in Russia.

Once again, one should remember that Russians are very inexperienced in the whole school of democracy. Therefore, for them, Parliament was their first experience of the democratic institution. After all, they voted those deputies into the Russian Parliament. And then they saw through the means of the Russian TV that those deputies who were representatives of them, of Russians, were shot by tanks, by guns, by all this military force of the right, by the president of the Russian Federation. That probably was nothing new for us.

What was really amazing to hear was the statement made by President Bill Clinton of the United States. He said that he approved the deeds of Mr. Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Federation. And this was shocking.

I think this was the worst mistake made by the authorities of the United States in regard to Russia. The message that we got was clear-cut. It was, "We don't care whether it takes killing you, and violating the law, to create the institution of the mini-civil war in Russia. As long as you guys are going to continue the rhetoric about the democracy and market economy, it is fine with us."

. . . If this had been said by any other country . . . that doesn't have such a long history of democracy and the fight for democracy . . . probably many Russians, or I, myself, wouldn't be that much concerned about it. But the fact that the president of the country considered here as the most democratic country that ever existed in the world approved the use of violence, and violation of the law . . . It was like all our beliefs, which were probably very naive, got ruined.

But also it was the fact that the United States and some other democratic countries approved the violation of the Russian Constitution--the dissolving of the Parliament--and it also gave a clear-cut message to the Russian elites. The very clear message, was once again, "As long as you continue the path of the market reforms, as long as you allow us not to worry too much about your nukes, do whatever you want. Kill, kill, violate the law, go ahead and do this."

Therefore, now I read in an absolute majority of the American newspapers all this great chattering about corruption in Russia, and that violation of the law exists in Russia. And I always want to ask those journalists, and especially the columnists, "Guys, what about back in 1993? Why were you in a rush back then to prove those deeds made by the so-called democrats? And now you are kind of concerned about the level of corruption and the unlawfulness existing in Russia?"

But to reduce the level of emotions, I would say from my perspective, that it was a very big mistake from the side of the U.S. authorities. They gave a message, and Russian authorities got that message.

And so a lot of the Russian people got the message.

Absolutely. . . . Since those events that ended in bloodshed in the first days of October, 1993, the word "law" lost any real meaning for many Russians. They were just told, "No, in Russia there are no laws. There is the power of violence, the power of tanks." The entire Russian population watched this great performance, but the name "law" is not for us.

. . . What did the U.S. or the Western advisors know about corruption? What role, if any, did we have in helping to create the oligarchs?

I don't know how well foreign advisors--American advisors included--knew the rules of the game existing in Russia. I think that they were pretty much aware of those rules. What happened is that lots of money was going into the privatization program, and into economic reforms in Russia. However, there was less help for creating democratic institutions in Russia.

I think that if the IMF and World Bank put more money into promoting the idea of law in Russia, it would help them to save some money that perished, and also that was in the offshore accounts of the Russian oligarchs. . . . Was there a possibility to escape the existence of those oligarchs? It's true that at the time of privatization, most of the foreign investors didn't want to come to Russia and buy Russia's most available enterprises.

There was political instability in the country, and there was the war in Chechnya, before the events of 1993. All that didn't help to attract foreign direct investors into the country. Therefore, probably it was quite difficult to evaluate the real price of the Russian enterprises, and to conduct the privatization program quickly.

I still don't know whether it was really necessary to do privatization so quickly. No one country ever did privatization in such a rapid way. I'm not sure that Russia had to be some sort of exclusive example of this speed of privatization.

But it happened that way. And what happened then is that government got trapped into the constant war with the oligarchs. As long as the oligarchs got something, they became more powerful than government officials.

Some Russian top government officials got privatized by oligarchs. Government was under the constant pressure from the state Duma that got elected after the 1993 events. State Duma was dominated by the Communists, and behaved under the slogan, '"the worse the better." All the time, the government somehow had to find money to pay for this, to pay for that. . . .

So the government was in constant need of money. And back in 1995, it also was the first year of the war in Chechnya, which was an extremely expensive affair. So basically at that time, government found itself in a Catch-22 situation. It had to find money. There was no money. All the loans that were given by IMF, World Bank and whoever were exhausted. And that's when several Russian oligarchs came with the idea of so-called "loans for shares."

They gave the Russian government a small amount of money, and allowed it to pay on back wages, back pensions. In exchange for that, they got the most valuable pieces of the state property, such as oil companies and natural resource companies. Instead of using the profits from oil, gas, et cetera, to pay on pensions and wages, the government sold those companies for nothing to the oligarchs.

It is still a big question how much corruption was involved. I think that a lot of different sides were involved in the corruption. I don't think that all Russian officials who were involved in those deals did this out of their personal stakes in those deals. I do think that some of them, of course, were bribed. But many of them really were very much concerned finding money to pay to many people who didn't receive their salaries and their pensions for months and months and months.

Besides, it was 1995. In the next year, there were supposed to be presidential elections. Boris Yeltsin's rating at that time was from two percent to six percent. So it was also a populist move--on one hand, to reserve the help from the oligarchy in the upcoming elections; and on the other hand, to reduce the social pressure that existed because of no payments. The government was also looking for funds to finance the war in Chechnya.

But the result is clear. Those few rich in Russia became even richer, and the rank and file in Russia became poorer. And those "loans for shares" not only helped to create enormous, anonymous wealth in the hands of few; by becoming so wealthy and so powerful, oligarchs gained a real political place in the Russian politics. Because of the unhealthy president and his corrupted entourage, those oligarchs became the most influential players in the Russian politics at some point.

And, of course, this didn't help anything. In the 1996 elections, once again, it's difficult to put it in black and white. . . . The trick is that there were forces in Russia . . . who were lobbying to ban any presidential elections in 1996; to dissolve Duma; and so forth.

The guy who is said to be the leader of those forces in Russia . . . is Yeltsin's powerful bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov. So some oligarchs, along with some Russian politicians, took a stand against these unlawful deeds. They did want elections to happen. There was a strong concern that the leader of the Russian Communists, Mr. Zyuganov, was going to win. Therefore, it was the first Russian elections where the whole power of money was used--in order to elect unelectable Mr. Yeltsin.

They succeeded. Obviously, it was better to have Yeltsin as president than to have Zyuganov, the Communist leader. . . . But the outcome was just the same as always--more corruption, total corrupted media, more power to oligarchs, more problems to the government, and an exhausted budget. All that eventually led to the collapse in August,1998.

How did people react to the fact that the U.S. and the West never criticized the first war in Chechnya?

After the 1993 approval from the U.S. to dissolve the Russian Parliament, Chechnya was the second message given to the Russian people. The message was that, even though the Russian government conducts a savage war in Chechnya, the United States will not criticize Russian government for those deeds.

In May of 1995, I was invited to testify to the American Congress on the war in Chechnya, since I covered the war in Chechnya. And I kept telling those who came for the hearings to stop giving money to Russia, that by giving loans and credits to the Russian government you, in fact, finance the killing of the thousands of civilians in Chechnya.

How were the Russian people affected by that?

For many of us, it appeared that there were double standards exercised by the U.S. administration. It's fine to talk about democracy and to exercise democracy overseas. But when it comes to Russia, this backward country, there is not really a need to talk about law, democracy or these kind of things--they are savage people, you know. . . . And I'm very much afraid that anti-Western, and anti-American feelings are gaining momentum in Russia now. If that's the kind of outcome the U.S. administration wanted to get in Russia, then they got it. They got it.

This anti-Western campaign is the basis of the current support for the second war in Chechnya.

The Russian public was given a message that democracy is not a real thing; that democracy is some sort of a theory that doesn't belong to the Russian soil; in fact, all that happened to Russia with the help of the United States happened because the United States wanted to destroy the great Russian empire. Therefore, the U.S. approved violence, and financed the previous war. If you ask people on the street, "Why do you disapprove the previous war in Chechnya and then approve the current war in Chechnya?" probably some of them say, "Wait a second. But the war in Chechnya got approved by President Clinton."

In fact, Mr. President Bill Clinton of the United States said in his latest interview to CNN that Russian government has the right to bomb Chechnya. It was the continuation of the same policy.

I'm not sure that, at any step along the way, the policy was ever thought out well enough to understand what was being created.

There was no real effort made in order to figure out the reality in Russia. There were a lot of perceptions. There were a lot of books written on the history of the Soviet Union by people who never visited this country, and who had little understanding about what was going on. There was the perception that, after the Soviet Union fell apart, we can very quickly set up democracy and a market economy in the country.

What does it seem that the U.S. wanted in Russia? Democracy? Or simply unfettered free markets?

I don't want to believe in the conspiracy theorists. I think that the United States did want Russia to become a good state, and for good reasons. The Soviet Union was a threat to the democratic world during all the decades of its history. Therefore, from the Russian point of view, the United States had to do their best to weaken Russia as a military state, as a military rival.

Secondly, I think that many advisors to the American administration judged Russia by its bad political culture. Therefore, there was sort of an assumption that, because Russia had such an undemocratic political culture, there was no need to try to create any real democratic situations in Russia.

Probably the theory and the whole conception of the American politics was, "Let's help to turn Russian government-owned enterprises into the private hands, and that's it." I want to point out that the kind of changes that happened to Russia over those ten years were great. I do think that what happened to Russia is a sort of a miracle, because Russia escaped the fate of Yugoslavia. We escaped the civil war. The empire got dissolved without overwhelming killings, and without a civil war. That's a real miracle, and that's a real great advantage. That's a real great achievement of the Yeltsin regime, and he should be credited for that.

However, I think that there was great disbelief on both sides of the ocean about the possibility of establishing true democracy on Russian soil.

If we ask those involved in policies towards Russia in the United States if they believed in the possibility of creating a democratic state in Russia, I think the answer will be, "No, we didn't believe. We knew it was impossible. Russian political culture doesn't and didn't allow for that. So our goal was to make Russia less dangerous to the United States, and therefore, to make the life of the American taxpayers more secure." They succeeded in that. I think they also wanted to help Russians get on the road to market reforms. In this respect, I think U.S. policy succeeded.

Why did Boris Yeltsin resign on New Year's Eve?

Boris Yeltsin resigned for two reasons. First, Boris Yeltsin got too sick and incapable to run the country anymore. I think his entourage got very concerned that Boris Yeltsin was about to die any minute. That was the first reason. A second reason was that, that after Boris Yeltsin proclaimed Mr. Putin as his heir, it became quite difficult for the government administration to sustain Putin's high popularity. The entire popularity of the current active president is based on the war in Chechnya.

He got very high ratings very quickly. The laws of statistics suggest that he was and is supposed to lose that high popularity very, very quickly. The concern was that, should elections happen in June of 2000 as they were scheduled, Putin would have a lot of trouble winning the elections. That's why both Yeltsin and his entourage decided to conduct the elections in March.

I do believe that it was Yeltsin himself who made this decision. But it's also true that his closest entourage brought him the reasons to step down earlier.

. . .

Was it a democratic transfer of power?

Russia had a real chance to create a precedent of democratic transfer of power via open public elections. After Yeltsin resigned in December of 1999, a pure monarchial way of transferring the power was created. Once again, it appeared that Yeltsin was a czar. He appointed an heir. The guy who Yeltsin appointed as his successor, his heir, is going to win the elections, just by the fact that three months are not enough time to have a real contest.

So we keep talking about democracy, and we keep talking about elections. But what we do in the reality is something totally different.

Who is Vladimir Putin? Why was he chosen as the heir?

Mr. Putin is a career KGB officer who spent 16 years of his life in the KGB. Despite the P.R. conducted by his administration, he never was a career intelligence officer, but he worked in the departments that were associated with intelligence. He graduated from the then-Leningrad State University, from the law department, which, like many things, didn't prepare laws. Laws didn't exist at the time of the Soviet Union. But the law department prepared those governmental bureaucrats. So he was well prepared for this job.

For someone from low-class upbringings to get an appointment in the KGB, as Putin had, was a very good appointment. Putin joined the KGB at the end of his study. First he worked in Leningrad in so-called "intelligence". . . . It's not a pure intelligence in the Western meaning of this word. It's the sort of the work where KGB guys were looking after foreign businessmen and tourists.

He probably was pretty good, since he was able to get a promotion, and got a year-long study in the famous intelligence academy now named after Andropov. For someone with his background in the class-sensitive Soviet Union, it was extremely difficult to get this promotion, because intelligence as a whole, and this institute in particular was a designated place for the elite of the Communist society--for those sons of the Central Committee of the Communist Party employees and generals of the KGB.

Probably one of the reasons he got this promotion was the same reason he became the head of Yeltsin. He was very loyal to his superiors through his entire life. And second, what was very important is that Putin was very capable of suppressing his individual . . . personality, whether he had or has one or not.

In the Soviet Union, the rule of the game was, if one wanted to make a career one had to obey the saying: "Never stick your head out of the tram window." That was the rule of the game. You had to keep a very low profile, not to express any individuality, and to be extremely loyal to your superiors in order to get a promotion. As we can see, he quite succeeded in that. So in 1995, he got an assignment in . . . the KGB's intelligence office in Dresden, East Germany. . . . Dresden was not the best assignment in East Germany. The most important and the most interesting assignment in Berlin. He never got into this, because he never was a career KGB intelligence officer.

He wasn't very successful in Dresden, despite of all the stories that you often read in the foreign press. He has never been a James Bond. . . .He was sort of a mediocre officer. Turn back to Leningrad in late 1989, and he got another setback.

For the third time in his life, intelligence didn't invite him to join its ranks. It was bad. He got a position as assistant to the dean of Leningrad University. That kind of position was usually assigned for the resigned KGB colonels. It meant his career in the KGB was over.

At the same time, Anatoly Sobchak, became the mayor of Moscow.

Anatoly Sobchak was a very well-known politician of this new wave of Russian politicians, who came from sort of democratic circles. Legend goes that Sobchak asked Putin to help him, because Sobchak knew Putin since the time he was a professor at Leningrad University and Putin was his student.

I don't buy this legend. What is known is that back in 1989, 1990, KGB internal regulations required its officers to penetrate new civic situations. If you talk to those who worked in Mayor Sobchak's office at the time, they will tell you that all of them were perfectly aware that Putin was assigned to this new democratically elected mayor to watch after him and advise him. . . . and that Putin, in fact, was responsible for the questions that usually were assigned to the retired KGB officers--conducting relationships with the foreign institutions, businesses, et cetera.

However, those who worked with Putin--in at the time in St. Petersburg, later Leningrad--say that he was a very effective manager, and he was one who was capable, unlike many others, of making decisions.

Putin has a reputation as an honest guy. That's something very rare for one who made a career inside the Russian bureaucracy. It also became known that he's a deep believer, which is a very strange thing for one who had a career in the KGB.

Obviously, I don't think that's a good idea to judge Putin just by his KGB past. It's not right, because that's the way KGB used to judge us Soviet citizens--just because we are not party members or had the wrong last name or belonged to the wrong nationality or confessed to religion. I do believe that people are capable to change, and that ten years in the democratic circles did make a certain impact on Putin, as well.

His own experience--both in East Germany, and he frequently traveled to West Germany--as well as his experience in Leningrad made him a believer in the market economy. In fact, if you talk to the intelligence officers of those who were stationed abroad, an absolute majority of them say that a market economy is a much more effective way of running the country than the type of economy and regime that existed in the Soviet Union.

So I'm not concerned about whether he's going to conduct the market reforms or not. I'm more concerned about his approach towards democracy, towards human rights, and personal freedoms and liberties.

The mentality of the KGB officer is that they were taught to be an extreme statist. . . . those who believe in the Russian imperialistic notion of being a great empire. That kind of mentality was taught and developed inside the KGB. And we clearly can see that Putin is that sort of extreme statist. For him, as for many of those who worked in the KGB, the state always comes first.

Everything else--democratic institutions, personal liberties, personal freedoms, individuality, human rights--everything else is after the state. Therefore, I'm afraid that, if this notion of creating a strong Russian state demands that Putin crush democratic institutions, he won't think twice before doing that.

To make the long story short, for Putin, democracy in Russia is not an end. He doesn't have personal stakes in that the way Yeltsin did. For him, democratic institutions are the means. If the means are effective, then he will use them. If they're sometimes not effective, then he will screw them up. I do think that we should expect some years of authoritarian regime in Russia.

I don't want to make conclusions right away before we get to know Putin's program. Russia is great in inventing its own political technologists. We are probably one of those few countries in the world where the primary candidate for the presidential office doesn't have any political program, and even openly says that he's afraid to present any political program, because he's afraid that his opponents will tear it apart. It's a great political technology. But Russian democracy is undeveloped, very infantile, and Russian democracy is fragile.

Is it too fragile to withstand someone who thinks that democracy isn't that important?

I think that Putin is a pretty much pragmatic guy. He does understand that Russian economy cannot survive without help from the West. On the other hand, he does know that Russia lacks the capabilities to blackmail the Western countries with its nukes. Therefore, Putin will do his best . . . to present this democratic face, in order to receive Western help.

He also understands that for foreign creditors--those who can bring foreign direct investors to Russia. . . . Those foreign businessmen are afraid to come to Russia now, but are looking to the Russian market. They do want to have a stronger state in Russia. And it's true that the kind of state that exists now in Russia is pure chaos. Therefore, we do need to strengthen the state, and those institutions that are responsible for law and order in the country.

My concern is that Putin may choose order without law. However, I do think that he's smart enough. He does understand that the Treasury will be unable to sustain market reforms without help from the Western countries. Therefore, I think that he will preserve some sort democratic face, at least for the foreseeable future.

The level of his popularity is due entirely to the war in Chechnya. What does that say about the current mood of the Russian population? What does it say about him? You know better than I do that it's been a horrible war.

Yes. I ask all the time how Russian people, who lost millions and millions of the members of their families to NKVD and KGB, even dare to vote for the guy who deliberately chose KGB as his place of work. It's a question that I, myself, have a hard time understanding. In each and every Russian family, someone perished in the gulag.

However, there is an explanation to Putin's popularity. It's probably very difficult for outsiders to understand the art of survival. For Russians, the art of survival was the most important thing that they taught their kids. Russians lived in extreme poverty for centuries. And it's only going worse, and under pressure from of the powerful state. Therefore, the most important thing for many Russians and me, included, was and is to survive, and to do your best in order to bring up a kid.

When the bomb blasts in Moscow took down three apartment buildings, it brought a lot of fear to many Russians, including to me. It was a very simple sort of fear. . . . It brought to us memories of World War II, of those years where Moscow was bombed. All of a sudden, it appeared that all this discussion about democracy and oligarchs was nothing, compared to this fear of dying inside your own apartment.

In a way, you can see Russia as a pure Hobson's state--a country in a state of nature, a country that doesn't have law. Obviously, in such an undeveloped country, the sense of self-preservation is extremely important, and it becomes the driving instinct. What Putin did by starting the war, first in Dagestan and then in Chechnya, was to tell the majority of Russians, "I'm here to protect you." And that is the message that many got.

Russia is a very infantile society. We got accustomed to having a state that was responsible for everything in our lives--medical care, schools, even the way we made kids. The state was responsible for everything. The state got involved in everything.

Compared to the sick and incapable Yeltsin, Putin is this image of the guy who is ready to give you his hand and lead you into the bright nice future. And all you have to do is just to grab this hand and say, "Guy, take me into this bright future. I want to go there with you, whatever it takes. And if on your way to this bright future, you need to create another gulag, that's fine with me, as long as you lead me." He is the image of this big father, who is ready to take care. That's definitely had a great impact on Russians, and it still does.

I think that these are two major reasons why Putin became so quickly popular in Russia. Don't forget--in this country, democracy never existed, and freedom of press never existed--never, ever, in our entire history. For an absolute majority of Russians, democracy is some sort of great theory. Probably many of them see a democratic state as a big nice supermarket-- you come, you have enough food. We always were lacking food in our history. Just ten years ago there were nothing. Now, great food, great clothing, lots of juice for kids, fruits that many of us didn't even know the names of ten years ago.

So, that that's probably the reason why Putin is going to be elected. However, I think the way that this whole war in Chechnya was conducted, this most savage and inhuman way, threatened a lot of liberals inside Russia. Many of us who belong to so-called intelligentsia, people who have some liberal stance, are not going to vote for Putin.

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 that this bigger moment in history is over, at least for the time being. Do you think that that's true?

I think that this stage of chaotic democracy is definitely 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 inhuman 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, the generation of my daughter or her kids, to take another stand for creating a civilized and democratic society in Russia. From that perspective, 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 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. . . . I probably dreamed to have more for my country, and it's not going to happen in my lifetime. Okay, 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 personal life.

You say that you think things will be authoritarian, that it's becoming that way and will be so for a while. What will Russia look like in 2001, in 2002?

There are a lot of examples in Latin America. Look at Mexico, which is basically a one-party system, with semi-democratic elections. One even can say that it's a bit of fake elections, with a big state and huge corruption. This is one plausible outcome.

I think the best bet is that we'll see something like Chile under Pinochet. They had 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. Now Chile now is one of the fastest-growing nations in Latin America.

And then there are examples like Paraguay and Columbia. . . . authoritarian regime trapped into organized crime. There are no real contested elections. Democracy comes every four years just to make the next president, or the same president, look legitimate. And there's huge gap between those who are rich and those who are poor.

home ·  who is putin? ·  yeltsin legacy ·  whither russia? ·  interviews ·  u.s. policy ·  discussion
facts & stats ·  video excerpt ·  readings & links ·  synopsis ·  tapes & transcripts
FRONTLINE ·  pbs ·  wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
top photo copyright © roger ressmeyer/corbis