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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.
What do you mean when you say that Russia is "stuck between two floors?"

Russia has found itself stuck between two floors. On one hand, according to all the polls, about 80 percent of the respondents support Western values. And at the same time, about two-thirds of them are now willing to give them all up in the name of dictatorship, for order. So the post-Soviet person still has one leg in the past, and is partially trying to become part of the Western world. We are a divided people.

And how do you explain that to yourself?

I try to explain it through our traditions. This transition has been too short. The window to Europe, a window from this stuffy house of ours, has been open for too short a time. It has just been eight to ten years. There has been only one new generation, and it hasn't fully breathed in the smell of freedom. On the other hand, it wasn't only traditions. We cannot explain everything thought our past, through our traditions.

We did not seize the opportunities of 1990-1991; we didn't seize the great chance to open opportunities, when the entire society was behaving as one. The army, the KGB, and the bureaucracy were all for a new, independent Russia. This idea had no enemies. There was a time when Yeltsin could have--like in windsurfing--been lifted on a wave to utilize this opportunity. He could carry out a coup to overturn the entire model of Soviet development, to transition from a czarist autocratic system to a system of checks and balances, to carry out political--constitutional--reform.

Theoretically he could have done this. Society would have supported him. But he missed the opportunity because he was too much a person of the past. He was a person of the past who destroyed the past. All liberal democrats, at least a majority of liberal democrats, supported the idea of new czarism, a new autocracy, and a new undivided power. They all saw Yeltsin as our guarantor, our engine of reform, our mover of reform. And they started to build a constitutional pyramid. Russia, after communism, returned to czarism.

After the putsch in August, 1991, and the time immediately thereafter, you've said Yeltsin had all the powers. Did Yeltsin understand what was needed at that moment?

I doubt that he could have understood the necessity to move to that model of a liberal democracy that had triumphed in Europe or in the United States of America. He was a person who had never been abroad. He was from the provinces.. He was an older man, lacking in new experiences. He was firmly planted in the past. Thank God he realized the necessity to destroy communism and the planned economy. It is now obvious that he couldn't have moved any further than that by himself. Someone could have moved him, because then, in 1991 when he unexpectedly formed a government of young people who were unknown liberals, he sheltered them with his authority. It seems that he risked his authority, he risked everything, because he wanted to see a Russia that was part of Europe, a peaceful Russia that was a partner to the United States. He had ideas that went further--not just economic reforms--but a civilized society.

However, by the summer of 1992, he had in effect betrayed these ideas, because he stopped reforms. He extricated himself from Yegor Gaidar, and from this moment forward his goal was not Russia, but his role above Russia. Yes, he carried out reforms now and then. He was walking forward slowly, carefully, but only with respect to economics, and only as far as it helped him to be on top--to be a czar. He sublimated reforms and the democracy to one goal: his own power, his omnipotent power.

Given his background, was he obviously not a democrat by nature?

Of course not. In history, there are many situations where democracies were built by those other than democrats. I don't believe that in Spain, after Franco, Adolfo Suarez was a democrat. He was a Francoist. He realized the necessity. Similarly the Founding Fathers of the American constitution realized that a person is a very egoistic animal and there is a need to create limits, a system of checks and balances, to limit men, to create institutions. Yeltsin and the Russian democrats, on the other hand, did the absolute opposite. They didn't put limits on men. They put a man above other men and they created a new czar. The problem wasn't just with him. We can't blame Yeltsin for everything. We have to blame those around him as well. They "elected" him czar.

In 1993 when he dissolved Parliament, even the West supported him. He did that in order to stop continuing along the road of reforms. The reform stopped at that point. He did it so that he could be the fully, legitimate, elected czar. The democrats in Russia and the liberal West, everyone, supported this.

So you are saying the US supported what Yeltsin did in October of 1993 in the name of reform. Yet, once he had gotten into that fight with Parliament, and once blood had been shed--even at that moment--he had already ended the reforms?

There is proof of this. Chancellor Kohl served as the intermediary between Yeltsin and the West. Yeltsin wrote in his memoirs that, in the spring of 1993, he had already met with Kohl and discussed what he should do about the parliament. Kohl clearly approved of the dissolution of the parliament, or at least that is what Yeltsin understood him to say. Then Kohl met with the American president and with French and British leaders.

The price we have paid for Yeltsins leadership is loss of faith in the potential of democratic leaders, and disappointment in our own potential to build a civilized, liberal democracy.  The West knew what was about to happen. They knew very well that Yeltsin wanted to strike at the parliament with a single blow. And the West supported this, for two reasons: mostly for stability in Russia, a country teeming with nuclear capabilities, but also because the West believed that the strong, autocratic rule of Yeltsin would promote liberal reforms. It didn't matter if it was a democracy or not. It was a typical czarist rule, characteristic of Russia, typical for Russia. Let them have this rule. But Russia would become an open economy.

What happened in reality? In reality, right after the parliament was gunned down, Yeltsin pushed the liberals out of the government. First of all, Gaidar. He was the first victim of the Yeltsin czarist revolution. After this, there began a period of stagnation and the decline of power. The next year the war in Chechnya began, and then problems arose with the US and the springtime of our relationship, the honeymoon, was over.

What was the reaction of the Russian people to 1993, and to the West's support of Yeltsin during that time?

The reaction of the Russian society to the dissolution of the parliament and the election of a new one was not consistent. On one hand, it was clear that everyone was opposed to bloodletting on the streets of Moscow--it's a very serious thing. There was a taboo against bloodletting in Moscow. Yeltsin crossed this line. Many people died. . . .

Yeltsin did it again with the second Chechen war. The Chechen war grew out of blood in Moscow. That's why people had a very ambivalent reaction to it. But they, by the way, despised the parliament. . . . Many people used the parliamentary podium just to express themselves, and to block the reforms. That's why there wasn't much compassion towards the parliament. There was, however, disgust associated with what happened later.

After the dissolution of the parliament, Yeltsin's party lost in the elections in 1993. Thus, through not supporting his party, people expressed their attitudes towards Yeltsin and what he had done. They supported the constitution, however. Why? I am under the impression that people made a pragmatic decision. They decided that a monarchical constitution, a czarist constitution, was better than none at all, or better than an emergency situation. As a result, they voted against Yeltsin and his party and his power, but for his constitution as the lesser evil. The population wanted stability.

And what was the reaction to the fact that the West, and particularly the United States, supported what Yeltsin had done?

At that time, the reaction wasn't well known in Russia. And the Russian electorate, the simple Russian man, was much more concerned about what was going on in Russia. He had little concern for what was going on in the West. The West became more of a concern later, mostly during the Chechen war and the expansion of NATO.

We were here in December, 1993, filming before the elections. For the first time ever, when people on the street discovered we were Americans, people started yelling at us about Clinton. "If Clinton fired on your White House, what would your reaction be?" So there was something that was, in fact . . .

You are correct. This was probably in Moscow, which is very politically charged. In the provinces, these developments didn't have much importance.

A last question on the October, 1993 event. Was this one of the first times that the liberals started leaving Yeltsin?

I would say some of democratic Russia had left him already in late 1991. They tried to convince him to make political reforms. They insisted that Russia needed new institutions--a new parliament, a new executive power. Yeltsin ignored them, preferring to listen to younger, more aggressive democrats who supported the idea of a Russian Pinochet. This was closer to Yeltsin. He was used to such a model of power. Thus, even then, some democrats became a constructive opposition.

More people left Yeltsin, after 1993, and especially 1994. When the war began in Chechnya, even Gaidar stood in opposition. The drama of Russian democrats and liberals was that, in spite of their dissatisfaction for Yeltsin, despite the fact that Yeltsin had basically closed the door in their face, they eventually voted for Yeltsin in 1996. They had no leader; they didn't know where to go. They had the typical Russian affliction that we have to have a strong leader, and the only leader was Yeltsin. So the drama was that, at every moment of truth, the democrats returned to Yeltsin. He used them and then discarded them as a rag when they weren't needed.

It sounds like, in some ways, the liberal democrats in Russia were the same as the US government. Yeltsin was the embodiment of reform, and they were never going to change their minds about that.

Absolutely right. For them, it was very difficult to think of opposition to Yeltsin. It is very strange. The same way that the West got used to a system of checks and balances, they were afraid to consider anyone else as an alternative to Yeltsin. The West continued to perceive Russia as a czarist, autocratic, archaic country. This is a paradox. The West has always conducted a policy of a double standard towards Russia. When we used to say to the West that democracy in Russia is weak, that Yeltsin behaves like an autocratic leader, like a monarch, our Western colleagues used to ask what did we want--that this was our history and we could only hope to move so fast. They justified Yeltsin and this limited, decrepit democracy.

You described these people who ended up being around Yeltsin, the so-called reformers, as "Pinochet liberals." What do you mean by that?

When I speak about our liberals who think like Pinochet, I first of all think about the first liberal government, the Gaidar government. They tied all their hopes to the monarch, to Yeltsin, and not to institutions. They didn't work through the parliament. They were not trying to find political support. They put everything on the father of reform, who betrayed them after six months. This was their mistake. They tried to make Russia a market economy without thinking much about the fact that, in addition to the market, you needed to have the rule of law and a system of checks and balances. They adopted liberal democracy without the liberalism. They accepted the market, plus some form of elected monarchy. They accepted the kingdom as long as there was a market. They were slaves to the market but without liberalism. This was their mistake. . . .

But I think that then they realized this mistake. Gaidar understood later that they had to rely not only on Yeltsin, that they had to build up a party, to gather supporters, to work with the parliament. This was the original sin of the Russian democrats. They dug up their own grave and fell into it.

So they were much more interested in economics than democracy all along?

Yes, unfortunately this is the case. Probably because it is much easier to start an economy than it is a democracy. To build a democracy, one has to build parties. It is such a long process. It can take decades. It means that one needs to learn the culture of dialogue, the culture of compromise. This means that one needs to cooperate, even with Communists. It is much easier to build a pyramid of power, to elect a monarch, to create a strong state army, to privatize, to create a free market, and only then to think that maybe on this market economy, we can build a democracy. This is also how Marx thought. Let's create the base first and then the superstructure. This was a fully Bolshevik method of reforming Russia. Our liberals were young Bolsheviks.

Wasn't that exactly what their partners, their friends in the United States, were preaching as well?

. . . Sadly, the dominant American view stressed that Yeltsin was a pro-West leader and the basis for reform. They thought the basis for reform was a movement to a free market first, and then Russia would arrive at a liberal democracy. Thus, in effect, the West supported the most primitive, the most simplified mode of reform, which was market-based reform. I don't remember when the West ever insisted that Yeltsin learn how to compromise, how to speak to and with the parliament. No. To the West, the parliament was a source of evil, the last bastion of all that was reactionary, because it had Communists in it. What was important to the West were not the rules of the democratic game. They were interested in their partners. It was a purely pragmatic approach, a purely utilitarian approach.

How do you explain that to yourself--that our definition of reform in Russia became totally identified not just with Yeltsin, but with this one political group?

It's pretty obvious that the West chose the simplest way that would turn out to be the fastest. They sought support from a group of like-minded people in the Russian establishment, those who look similar to them, who speak wonderful English. . . . This group turned out to be Chubias's team. There weren't many economists who spoke in a Western tongue and behaved as real Western people. So it is absolutely natural that the Western governments, having found their "agents," decided to work through them.

They lost sight of one very important factor, however. The group who was similar to them in spirit and mentality was very small, and didn't have political support in the society. And this was the first mistake--to support people without political influence, those who would be thought of as foreigners. Second, when you support someone, you cross a line and get too close. This buddy-buddy relationship between Western political teams and the team of young Russian reformers was also a mistake, because this familiarity robbed the young reformers of their identity, and caused them to be viewed by the people as conduits of Western influence. The West became responsible for their mistakes.

In talking about Chubias, you have said, "You groomed him."

In many ways, Western experts and politicians are responsible for the growth of our reformers. Western experts maintained in our reformers a certain model of development. Western experts could have told our reformers that they needed to find political support for their reforms, that you shouldn't go so quickly, that you should look for consensus. You have to convince even the Communists that we need to carry out land reform. But, in effect, the West used the young reformers to support one very quick model of reform, a very harsh model, like cutting the tail off a cat. It was considered to be the least painful way. This didn't work in Russia and the people have rebelled against it.

The West underestimated the need for society to support the reforms. In this country, you can't introduce reforms by twisting people's arms. The society would resist, and it did, in many different ways.

If you believe in democracy, you can't introduce reforms in any society without the support of the public. So why were we pushing a different way here?

I think the West surrendered its own identity and, in effect, gave up the rules of its own game when it worked with Russia. For some reason, when it worked in Poland and Hungary, the West supported parliaments, referendums, and all the democratic institutions. But in Russia they accepted a czar. The reforms could be carried out in a very demanding way with the help of the oligarchs. It's what I call a political double standard. Essentially, the entire policy of the West was based on a lack of belief that the Russian people would understand and accept liberal democracy as its own. That's why it decided to hit it over the head, to put a czar above the people, and to work through a very small group of technocrats.

Was it "We are convinced that this is the right way, so if it just keeps going this way, eventually it will work out?"

Yes. The young reformers and the West ended up in a catch-22. No one wanted to admit they had taken the wrong road, that they had ended up in a dead end. How can you admit this? The Clinton administration still can't admit that Yeltsin is not a reformer, even though Russia has not had liberal democracy since 1996. To admit this would mean to admit to one's own mistake.

Can you talk about the 1996 elections and what was going on in 1996? What should the West have known, and probably did know? . . .

In 1996, the West fully supported Yeltsin. The logic was apparently "Yeltsin, rather than Zyuganov." It was better to completely close the Communist chapter. Except for Yeltsin, there were no other alternatives. Here one can argue in favor of the West's approach. There was Yavlinsky, who was pretty close to the West psychologically in his way of thinking, but for some reason, the West again supported a simple peasant, a provincial person, a former Communist, an autocrat. They apparently believed that Russia was not ready for a soft, civilized Western person. It's a paradox. That's why the West made its choice and helped Yeltsin.

Everyone knows how much money came from Germany to support Yeltsin's campaign. Yeltsin was supported by Western money. For example, the IMF supplied Yeltsin with a transfer in a timely way. No one asked where the money went. It went to support companies, to support oligarchs, technocrats, the presidential team. Everyone pretended not to see this.

I think that before 1996, but especially after 1996 during the loans for shares auctions, the West knew about the decadence of power, about the corruption. But the West was unable at that point to overcome the inertia of its own approach. For Western leaders to accept that Yeltsin's leadership was corrupt and that Russia was not a democracy, but an elected monarchy, would undermine their own policies. These policies were a cornerstone of Clinton's political program, a cornerstone of Kohl's political program. It was the basis of their foreign policy strategies. The West could not face the truth. The West ended up in a mousetrap. It had to play the song to the end. Yeltsin did as well. He made it look like he supported reform and a partnership with the West. The West played along with Yeltsin.

So this "monarch" was reelected in 1996. And then what happened?

The monarch is old and depressed. He was constantly falling into depression. At several times he was on the verge of suicide. He was a man who lost contact with reality. He stopped watching the news. He heard about the world through his family and closest advisors. He was beyond this world. He was no longer adequate for his role. He had already started forming his own mythical regime. Everything in the regime was mythical, a glass house. Everything about it was fantasy. It was political nonsense. This regime could not exist, but it existed. Why? The president was elected democratically, but ruled autocratically. Moreover, he wanted to prolong his rule through the appointment of his chosen successor, just like it would work in a monarchy. He ruled indirectly because he did not have the strength to rule directly. He sat in the car, but someone else drove. The steering wheel was in other people's hands. . . .

When he was incapable, either sick or drunk, he led by delegating power, and he had a lot of power. He was above the society, he was God--a typical Russian czarist tradition. Since he couldn't rule, he delegated power to his family, to the bodyguards, to the cook, to the doctors--to his favorites. Then he started to change his favorites, then the Cabinet. It was a very convenient way of ruling. He sat in the Kremlin, but more frequently in the rest home or the dacha, and from there he would pull the strings. It was a conveyor belt of sorts.

It was almost like under Stalin, though Stalin controlled everything. Yeltsin did not control anything at this point. When people came to visit him at the Kremlin, he sat as his desk looking at blank paper. He sat there and did nothing. He would sit like this for hours. He knew he was in Russia, but nothing else. Nothing interested him. He went to Sweden, but thought he was in Finland. . . . He talked nonsense. The only thing he did remember-- although he didn't know who he was--he knew he was a leader. This was the only thing that he cared about. He changed from a political animal to a biologic one.

Nonetheless, he did have some clear moments. We remember these moments. He would start mumbling, but then say realistic things. This meant that he cleared at times. He lived in cycles. In a sporadic fashion, in those moments he exhibited a real peasant wit and had an almost animalistic sense of power. He knew when you had to cast aside rivals. As soon as someone felt himself equal, he was immediately destroyed. This inadequate Yeltsin, with an almost artificial heart, who couldn't think with any distinctions, knew there was power and he was clinging to it like an animal.

Was he a self-destroyed man?

Yes. He was destroying himself, especially from these typical Russian problems. Yes, he drank. Everyone knew that. Many of his problems resulted from his alcoholism. Apparently he drank to compensate for inadequacy or ignorance. Many say he was an indecisive person. He was larger than life, but those who knew him said he didn't know when to make a decision. The alcohol was a way to compensate for these conflicts inside. Maybe he was a dramatic personality, with lots of tragedy in him. He didn't know whom to trust. In the end, he trusted only his family. He started on the top, as a hero. It is hard to remember any historical figure with such support, who had so much hope associated with him.

He had many positive traits. He really wanted to change things. In the beginning he was an exterminator. And to end it all in such a way, sick, with a one percent popularity rating, with people who were just waiting to seize his power and to discard him. He wasn't a regular guy or an ordinary personality. He couldn't live up to expectations. He left the country in the very depth of decline.

As he declined, he took the country with him.

Yes. It is a very tragic thing to say, but we have to dig ourselves out of the hole he found himself in. However, I think things are not this simple. I view him in an impressionist way. I appreciate that he had wishes, motives, good reasons to do things. In 1991, he took a risk and showed courage. He made a big change in this country.

There was something else. Up to the end, he was criticized harshly. Even the most supportive newspapers wrote horrible things about him. He should have, even if he never read these papers, known of these criticisms. But, he never closed newspapers. He never punished a journalist. He never allowed himself to be vindictive. He had many favorites, and he changed them as gloves, but he was never vindictive. This is amazing, that he was never vindictive.

He led like a czar, but he did not turn the country into a dictatorship. He started the war in Chechnya, but when he saw he had made a mistake, he tried to get out of it. He was looking for a compromise. He didn't want bloodshed. I'm sure he wanted to sign a peace agreement. I think he probably didn't have what it took to be a real autocrat.

He left Russia humiliated, but with a lot of freedoms that still exist--for now.

During this time that you have described so well and so dramatically, while Yeltsin was in failing health and had created this fantasy in the Kremlin, the United States was still being the cheerleader for him. How does that affect the Russians who are living here and seeing what is really happening for themselves?

I think Russian observers--those at least who read the paper--became more disappointed in the West after the expansion of NATO. They blamed the West for the double standard. On one hand, the West supported Yeltsin despite everything, following the Noriega principle. The known devil is better than the unknown. Yeltsin is at least playing our game. For the West, especially the US, disarmament was the most important thing--control of the nuclear arsenal. Here, Yeltsin and the Russia played by the rules. What happened in Russia was less important.

But when the expansion of NATO began, Russian observers started to say that if you believe that Yeltsin is such a reformer and that we have a liberal democracy then why are you moving your tanks to our borders? What are you afraid of? What are you scared of? You're afraid of us. If we are reformers, then let us join NATO. Why couldn't this question be raised?

Then the double standard of the West was apparent. The West knew Yeltsin wasn't a reformer, that he was an autocrat. Who would come after him wasn't clear. Russia wasn't a democracy. This is why it was wise to move NATO closer, to protect Eastern Europe, maybe the Baltic States, because we don't believe Russia. This was the real Western understanding of Russia. The expansion of NATO was a litmus test. Everything became clear.

You've mentioned several times that the view of US policy is one of a double standard, so I trust this is not just NATO--it is also other aspects of U. S. policy towards Russia?

The double standard--and I'm not just speaking about the US, but all of the West--became apparent during the West's de facto approval of the disbanding of the Russian parliament and the de facto support of Yeltsin's authoritarian constitution. This was an authoritarian constitution. The West offered its help through the IMF when it was necessary to help Yeltsin. It was political help more than anything else. The West didn't care where its money was spent.

The West tried to minimize Yeltsin's problems, since Yeltsin played along with foreign policy rules related to the interests of the West. Yeltsin was a convenient leader because he followed the rules of the game. What happened inside Russia was of little concern to the West. We concluded that the West didn't care about the promise of liberal democracy in Russia, but they cared about stability. Stability was of overriding importance.

But I also understand the problem of the West. Yeltsin was the legitimately elected leader of Russia--how could they not support him?

At least the West could have expressed more dissatisfaction during the first war in Chechnya. The war lasted six months, and the West was silent. Only public opinion, first in Germany and then in France, made the West break its silence. However, the West did not protest Chechnya. It was an internal Russian matter. There were 100,000 killed, but it was an internal matter.

What price has Russia paid for the failures of the last ten years?

The biggest price is the disappointment. . . . The price that we have paid for Yeltsin's leadership is loss of faith in the potential of democratic leaders, and disappointment in our own potential to build a civilized, liberal democracy. This has to be the biggest price. It is hard to get away from disappointment. People start to go to the past. Partially, 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.

. . . 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. They have 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? Will it be 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 question.

You have an even deeper fear about what Chechnya could do to people. . . .

I am afraid that, 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, a new desire to get even--but with whom, then? Because Chechnya is to last for a long time.

Chechnya is Russia's tragedy. It is a tragedy because in 1996, 70 percent of the Russian people were against the war. Today, in 2000, 70 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, a 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.

Is the everyday struggle to survive, the crisis within families, at the heart of this move to the past?

The Russian society is a pyramid. At the bottom are more than 32 million people living below the poverty line. In the middle, there is a very small middle class, which has lost so much. There is no stability. A society is stable only when it looks like an egg, with a massive middle class, with three to five percent of the population at the top, those with high incomes. A pyramid is always an essential condition for revolution. The bottom of the pyramid wants to turn it upside down. That's what is scary.

It is not even the poverty that is frightening. What is frightening is that hopes and aspirations have diminished. People who five years ago wanted to buy a car now simply want to buy a kilo of meat. And it is scary that this pyramid is not turning into an egg. The middle class is not growing. And this is always a reason for dissatisfaction, a reason to go into the street, and turn the world upside down again.

You had written before Yeltsin resigned that no one wanted to go through Yeltsin's next resurrection. You were writing about the ups and downs and all of that, saying "Please, spare us from Yeltsin's next resurrection." Is Putin that next resurrection?

Putin can very well be the next reincarnation of Yeltsin. He very well can be. He can be the man who saves the elected monarchy, having replaced Yeltsin, and the man who prolongs its life. He can clear the stage of extra furniture, of favorites, oligarchs, and give a new hope to the masses--a new faith in a new, strict, fair czar--and thus he can save the monarchy. Thus he can be a new czar. He may be a stricter czar, but he can also be just like Yeltsin, a weak monarch who pays for his power by giving it away and simply sitting, satisfied, in the Kremlin. This may happen.

But Putin has one chance, a very small chance. He has a chance to personally carry out a constitutional political reform, to get rid of this elected monarchy, to get rid of this type of power that generates all our problems: favorites, corruption, oligarchs, and a czar ruling over us. Whether he will do this or not is hard to tell. So far, he is not interested in doing this. So far, he is saying that there is a presidential republic and that he wants to strengthen it.

Maybe soon he'll realize that it is impossible to strengthen this republic without reverting back to Yelstinism, because there cannot be effective leadership without responsibility. Our president is floating over our society, dominating our society without any responsibility for anything. And he can survive only with the help of recurrent revolutions--overthrowing Cabinets, changing favorites, and delegating power to the regions, to the oligarchs and barons. This is how this government can function. And if Putin does not understand this, everything will roll back.

Have you seen any signs that he is a democrat?

I have no information that would confirm that he is a democrat. Yes, we have information that proves that he is a market supporter, that he would prefer that Russia had more fair, equal rules, and that the government did a better job preserving the order, that the state were stronger. But whether he wants to achieve all this through democracy, through checks and balances, through giving the power back to the government, to the parliament--I am not sure at this point.

Most likely he himself is not sure what he wants. He is only writing his first sentences on the board. He does not know who he is yet. He hasn't been born yet. Thus he can go in many different directions and maybe we'll have to pay for his mistakes. He could believe that this country needs to be ruled through a conveyor belt by orders from the Kremlin when to turn the lights on in the Far East. And maybe he'll soon realize that you can't do this, that Russia needs a different approach. Russia needs to be steered out of the dead end.

Even though no one knows much about him, he is extraordinarily popular, at least at this moment. How do you explain his popularity?

The strangest thing, I think, is that it is very easy to explain this popularity. It is first of all explained by one paradox. Being an heir and a successor to Yeltsin, Putin is received by the society as an alternative to Yeltsin. The most interesting thing is that Putin is viewed as a dynamic, strong, honest, civil, modest and adequate leader, which is everything that Yeltsin wasn't.

He is a blank page and we are writing whatever we want on it. Those on the left are writing what those on the left want. Those on the right are writing what they want. And he avoids answering. He is not answering any of the questions. He wants to be liked by all. He wants to be a president of all Russians.

These are the two factors. He is an heir and he is an alternative to Yeltsin. And he is a nobody right now. And everyone wants to make him his own.

And how much does this war in Chechnya have to do with his popularity?

The war in Chechnya created Putin. It proved that there is someone on stage who can be decisive. . . . Now his main source is hope. Everybody hopes that things won't get worse, that he will ensure that there is order, that salaries are paid--even though they are horrendously low salaries--that he will ensure order. People don't expect anything else from him. They expected a lot from Yeltsin: miracles, life just like in the United States. From Putin they don't expect anything. People want order and stability for the future. They want very little.

These hopes create a Catch-22 for Putin, because no one in Russia can meet all the hopes and aspirations. Very soon he will have to deal with disappointments, regardless of how he performs. Maybe he will be the most effective leader with respect to the economy, but he won't be able to realize all the hopes. It is impossible to restore order in Russia tomorrow. And this disappointment is going to be a very serious trial for him. How will he emerge from it?

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