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photo of thomas grahamthomas graham

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He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1994-1997.
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?

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 decade.

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?

photo of Yevgenia AlbatsYevgenia Albats

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She is an independent journalist and the author of KGB: State Within a State.
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?

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 personal life.

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 2001, 2002?

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 plausible outcome.

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.

photo of E. Wayne  MerryE. Wayne  Merry

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He was Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1990-1994.
What has Russia become?

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.

photo of Boris FyodorovBoris Fyodorov

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He is a former Russian Finance Minister (1993-1994).
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.

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.

photo of Strobe TalbottStrobe Talbott

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He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and has specialized in Russia affairs in both his government and journalism careers.
What are your biggest concerns?

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.

photo of Lilia ShevtsovaLilia Shevtsova

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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.
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, 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 question.

And Chechnya--you have an even deeper fear about what this could do to people...

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.

photo of Pavel VoschanovPavel Voschanov

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He was Boris Yeltsin's press secretary from 1991-1993 and was a journalist with Komsomolskaya Pravda.
...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.

... 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 economic freedom.

Sergei Kovalev and Arseny Roginsky

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Kovalev headed Russia's Human Rights Commission under Yeltsin until he resigned in protest over the first war in Chechnya. He is a veteran lawmaker who served in Soviet-era legislatures and in all three post-Soviet Dumas.

Arseny Roginsky is a historian. After being released from a Soviet prison camp during the Gorbachev era, he founded "Memorial," the largest human rights organization in Russia.

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 this.

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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