Anne Garrels is a former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio and the author of Naked in Baghdad which chronicled the events surrounding the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her most recent book is Putin’s Country: A Journey into the Real Russia.
Aesop Rock, “No Regrets,” Labor Days, 2001.
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By Sean — 3 years ago
On August 9, 1999, fifteen years ago, Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin, an unknown, ex-KGB man to become Prime Minister of Russia. Then, no one would have guessed that Putin would still be with us today, and likely for many more years to come. For the anniversary, Oleg Kashin has provided long post detailing how the Russian press covered Putin’s appointment. How about the English language press? How did they describe this now historic moment?
Colin McMahon of The Daily Telegraph wrote:
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the man they called “the grey cardinal” in St Petersburg for his careful avoidance of the political limelight, is a blank slate to the average Russian.
For the third time in the last four tries, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has plucked from relative obscurity a bureaucrat to take over the post of prime minister of the Russian Federation.
Mr Putin has the added advantage, or handicap, depending on one’s point of view, of being named Mr Yeltsin’s preferred successor as president. . .
He spoke little, smiled less and, except in the hottest of times, wore over his suit a leather jacket that still says KGB. That deadpan style was on display on Monday night in an extensive interview on the independent station NTV.
He seemed guarded on just about everything, as if the interview were an interrogation and not a get-to-know-you visit.
“I have a wife and two children, two girls, ages 13 and 14,” he said. “They study in Moscow.”
Asked about interests beyond work: “Sport, literature, music. Which sport? Fighting and judo.”
If Mr Putin lacks charisma, say his supporters, it has yet to hurt his effectiveness. . .
Mr Chubais, a Yeltsin confidant regarded in the West as one of the smartest free marketers in Russia, opposed Yeltsin’s plan to name Mr Putin to replace Sergei Stepashin as prime minister.
A source in the political movement Right Cause told Interfax that while Mr Chubais considers Mr Putin a “contemporary politician” and a “powerful leader,” he predicts that public politics will test Mr Putin’s abilities.
At this stage, Mr Putin would be considered a long shot to win the presidency, no matter how much Mr Yeltsin might wish it.
Celestine Bohlen of the New York Times:
Nor do many Russians necessarily believe that Mr. Putin, 46, will still be Mr. Yeltsin’s preferred choice as a successor by the time the presidential elections roll around, several months after December’s parliamentary elections. Russian politics are littered with men who, at one time or another, held the mantle that has now been bestowed on Mr. Putin.
In Prime Minister Putin, Mr. Yeltsin will have a loyal servant — and a recent boss of Russia’s domestic intelligence service at that — who will be more ready than his predecessor to pull the kind of levers of power that might make even Russia’s most brazen regional bosses, an increasingly independent lot, think twice. Often portrayed as the kingmakers in the coming elections, they are still sensitive to the granting of funds and the release of compromising information — tools at the Kremlin’s disposal.
Brian Whitmore, now of RFE/RL’s the Power Vertical, wrote in the Moscow Times:
Vladimir Putin is a former KGB spy, a shrewd bureaucratic operator – and a completely untested public politician. He also has the reputation of a man who is completely loyal to his immediate boss. . .
But analysts say that Putin, an uninspiring speaker who rarely makes public statements, would be a tough sell in Russia’s presidential elections, scheduled for next July.
“I can’t imagine that in one year’s time it will be possible to turn Putin into a viable public politician,” said Yevgeny Volk of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Moscow office. Instead, said Volk, “Putin will be a useful and obedient tool in Yeltsin’s hands.” Putin, nominated for prime minister on Monday after Yeltsin fired Sergei Stepashin, has been director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet KGB, and has chaired the Security Council, which advises the president. His views on important matters such as economic policy are not well known.
Several observers said that Stepashin was sacked in favor of Putin because Putin is a tougher operator, more likely to use all available means against Yeltsin’s opponents – Gennady Zyuganov’s Communists, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and Russia’s increasingly assertive regional leaders.
Throughout his career, Putin has been a tough bureaucratic infighter and a master of behind-the-scenes politics who has been able to advance his career and loyally serve various masters.
Corky Siemaszko in the Daily News:
Putin, who admitted he had not “been involved in politics,” said he would run for president on his record in office in the coming months.
Yeltsin, who cannot seek a third term, gave no reason for firing the loyal Stepashin after three months in the job, but Putin suggested Stepashin’s failure to end the standoff with Muslim militants in the Caucasus played a role in his dismissal.
Political analysts noted the emergence of Moscow mayor and Yeltsin rival, Yuri Luzhkov, and his new political alliance last week as the catalyst. Muscovites were cynical.
“What do you expect from an ill president and his troupe of clowns?” asked a Muscovite named Marina.
Kremlin watchers, however, said Yeltsin’s anointing of Putin shows how desperate he is to find a successor who will guarantee immunity from prosecution for him and his allegedly corrupt entourage.
They also predicted Putin would not last long.
“He wants his allies to rally around Putin, but it’s too late,” said Columbia University political science Prof. Steven Solnick. “Putin has never even run for political office. . . . He’s not presidential material.”
Yulia Latynina opined in the Moscow Times:
Monday morning, it finally became clear who will not become Russia’s president in the year 2000. It will not be Vladimir Putin. He will not become president simply because prime ministers are sacked in Russia these days when they are just ripening. Besides, it’s impossible to stay for a year as an heir apparent to a sultan who is fanatically in love with his power and has only a vague idea of what is happening in reality. The astonishing fact that President Boris Yeltsin seriously considers himself capable of appointing his successor shows how little the president understands the political reality. Any nomination from him would inevitably cause a serious allergic reaction in the voters. The only thing worse for Putin would be an endorsement from a Russian lesbian association.
The New York Times editors wrote:
Mr. Yeltsin’s latest selection, Vladimir Putin, shares some of the same questionable qualifications as his immediate predecessors, Sergei Stepashin, who lasted only three months, and Yevgeny Primakov, who served for nine months. All three held senior positions in the Russian security services that succeeded the Soviet K.G.B., organizations not known for teaching the fine points of democracy. During the cold war Mr. Putin, who is 46, worked as a top Russian security officer in Germany, and most recently ran Russia’s internal security service.
None of these men had experience in economic management when they were appointed Prime Minister, making it difficult for them to devise programs that might revive Russia’s sinking economy. If Mr. Putin is confirmed by the Communist-dominated Duma, he will have to move quickly to show the International Monetary Fund that he is exercising budgetary restraint, collecting taxes effectively and taking other steps to justify a new round of lending.
Mr. Yeltsin’s clumsy efforts to stage-manage the next presidential election now leave Mr. Putin as his designated candidate in a likely field of far more prominent, seasoned politicians. Other possible contenders include Mr. Primakov; Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow; Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, and Aleksandr Lebed, a former general who is now Governor of a region in Siberia. So far the only prospective candidate with strong democratic credentials is Grigory Yavlinsky, who has had difficulty building a national base. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Putin, with no experience in electoral politics and no organized party behind him, can expect to compete for the presidency.
Alice Lagnado in the Times London:
Vladimir Putin, chosen by President Yeltsin yesterday as Russia’s acting Prime Minister and the Kremlin’s favoured presidential candidate, is a loyal but little-known figure known as the “grey cardinal”.
Mr Putin, 47 and married with two children, graduated from the law faculty of Leningrad University before being recruited into the KGB’s foreign espionage operation. He was posted to Dresden, part of the then East Germany, for 15 years.
In the 1980s he became an adviser to Anatoli Sobchak, the head of the Leningrad Soviet, or legislative assembly.
Mr Putin’s conscientious work – he was said to have had the final say in all of Mr Sobchak’s decisions – earned him the post of first deputy head of the St Petersburg city government in 1994, and the “grey cardinal” tag. When Mr Sobchak, St Petersburg’s first Mayor, lost the 1996 elections, Mr Putin moved to Moscow to become deputy to Pavel Borodin, Mr Yeltsin’s administration manager.
In March 1997 he became head of the Kremlin’s Control Department, a watchdog body, where he oversaw relations with Russia’s 89 regions. There he was dubbed an “imperialist” due to his toughness in preventing regional leaders seceding from Russia.
In July last year his loyalty paid off when he was promoted to head the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. But he received only a half-hearted welcome from liberals, who saw him as a reformist intelligence chief. He is believed to be a protege of Anatoli Chubais, the architect of Russian privatisation, It is believed Mr Chubais was a key figure in his promotion. “There are rumours in Moscow that Putin landed his post with the help of influential natives of Leningrad working in the Government and presidential administration,” the Segodnya newspaper wrote of his appointment.
Since then there has been some disappointment that Mr Putin has failed to meet important challenges. His officers still spend much time and resources on harassing environmentalists. The case continues against Aleksandr Nikitin, a former naval captain accused of spying, after he wrote a report claiming that the Russian Navy dumped nuclear waste in the Arctic Sea.Post Views: 74
By Sean — 10 years ago
Two days and counting before Dmitri Medvedev can lose the “elect” that sits after of his moniker President. The ceremony promises to be lavish and well choreographed. And why not? You can’t have a king without a coronation. But the question on everyone’s mind is not what Dima will do in his new position. It’s who’s in charge. Perhaps for once Russian and English language media are singing in chorus. Putin will be in charge. It’s just not clear how much.
One area VVP will certainly have sway is over the next cabinet. For the first time in a long time, the Russian Prime Minister, in this case Putin, will exercise his Constitutional right to form a government. According to Kommersant, the new government will probably look a lot like the old. Viktor Zubkov, Alexander Zhukov, Alexei Kudrin, all current vice premiers, will join the cabinet. As will Igor Sechin, Alexei Gromov, and Sergei Ivanov. Chief ideologist of Putinism, Vladislav Surkov will run Medvedev’s administration. These are all members of Putin’s clan. To solidify Putin bailiwick, there is speculation that Chapter 5, Article 32 of the 1997 law “On the Government of the Russian Federation” will be axed. Eliminating this article will strip the President’s power to appoint the heads of the military and foreign ministries.
Perhaps most important, especially if Medvedev intends to someday step out of his patron’s shadow, is that Putin’s appointments will give him a tight leash over the siloviki.
But what of Medvedev? How will he staff his administration? What does he intend to do? Few are asking because no one seems to know or really care. Nor is there any indication that Dima will spring any surprises. Besides pithy statements about fighting corruption and economic liberalization, it sounds that Dima’s role is to hold the ship steady, and remain, at least for the time being, the Skipper’s little buddy.
Honestly, how could it be anything different? Putin is the face of Russia in politics, kitsch, and culture. If Medvedev stepped into office and started shouting directions without a political base of his own, the siloviki would eat him alive. Plus, its not like Russian elite cares much. Apparently, they are too busy gorging themselves on the fat of the land to be concerned about the inner workings of Kremlin Inc.
Indeed, all seems right with the world if you’re looking out from a Kremlin window. But some refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. For them, Russia is eternally standing on the precipice of disaster. “I think one thing is dead clear. We have entered a period of profound instability in the country.” says Yevgenia Albats. In her view, “the double-headed state will inevitably lead to power struggles.”
Maybe. But that could ultimately be a good thing. Diarchy is better than nothing. Certainly better than autocracy.Post Views: 43
By Sean — 12 years ago
Two weeks ago readers of the Moscow Times were met with a rather chilling article on the front page. The headline: “Growing Number of Army Draftees Have HIV”. According to Major General Valery Kulikov the number of draftees rejected by the Russian army with HIV “skyrocketed by 27 percent over the past five years.” Last fall, 9000 were rejected for having HIV. Before 2000, only 300 were rejected. The military admits that this new figure is difficult to quantify because there aren’t reliable numbers of HIV/AIDS of the population as a whole to compare to, the extreme reluctance of the Russian armed forces to discuss the matter, the lack of equipment for reliable testing, plus recruits are not systematically tested. In many ways the military is a microcosm of the overall problem of HIV/AIDS in
The prognosis for Russian is not good. For 2004, UNAIDS estimates 420,000 to 1.4 million cases of HIV/AIDS, compared to the official Russian figure of 240,000. By 2020, they predict 5.3 million to 14.5 million cases, and 252,000 to 648,000 HIV/AIDS related deaths per year. For female sex workers, the estimates are staggering: 33.3% of female sex workers between 15-19 years old, 63.5% 20-24 years old, and 40% between 30-34 years old are infected with HIV. The numbers are shocking.
has the undesirable distinction of having the highest rate of HIV infection in the industrialized world. Russia
Some might ask what the point of yet another article about the problem of HIV/AIDS in
. The issue is not new. There perhaps nothing new that one can say. Not to mention that nothing can top Michael Specter’s profound and chilling explication of the global AIDS pandemic in his series of articles in the New Yorker. (Unfortunately, Specter’s article “The Devastation” is not available online without paying. However, you can read an interview with him discussing the issue here. You can also get the article through Lexis-Nexus if you have access.) The issue might not be “new” and there might not be much more one can say about it. But the problem is real. All too real. It is also being consistently ignored by the Russian government and society. All one can do is scream. Scream so loud into the darkness of ignorance and denial in hopes that a ray of sense pierces through. Russia
Pointing out the dire situation that exists in
on the HIV/AIDS front has nothing to do with Orientalist pretensions. This is no East/West thing. This has nothing to do with our “superiority” and their “backwardness.” It is about life and death. It is about a preventable problem. It is about putting the breaks on a still emerging epidemic. In fact the Russian case is illustrative of the global problem. The Russian discourse on HIV/AIDS is reminiscent of how the American government dealt with the issue in the 1980s. Hell, much of it is so strikingly similar to the American discourse now. Russia
After I read Specter’s article I asked a young Russian friend of mine about what she knew about AIDS. At first, my questions were met with blank stares. The reality of AIDS in
just flew over her head. She did respond and her response was telling: “Well, this disease only afflicts drug users and homosexuals.” That’s right the dregs of society, the depraved, the “abnormal.” One can’t really blame her. Much of the official discussion is about these “high risk groups.” Since they continue to engage in these risky behaviors they will be more likely to get HIV. Behind such statements is an implicit: “They deserve it.” Specter noted similar in his piece. As an unnamed “prominent” Russian liberal told him in reference to drug addicts, “AIDS might be a good thing, in a way, because it is killing people who only destroy the country anyway.” However, behind such crude and social Darwinist statements is also its binary opposite: those who don’t engage in those practices are “safe.” Russia
My argument is not with the fact that HIV/AIDS infection is higher among these groups. My problem is about how the creation of the category of “risk group” suggests a “safe group.” You can see it in statements like the following from Mosnews.com:
“In those countries [
Southeast Asia, Indiaand ], HIV is creeping out of marginalized urban groups such as prostitutes and intravenous drug users and into the population mainstream. The latest research gives a strong statistical boost to those warnings.” China
“Urban groups” versus “population mainstream.” Our concern should not be with the former. We know what that code screams. It is the latter that is troubling. What is the “population mainstream”!? And if the AIDS is penetrating into the “population mainstream” means heterosexuals, non-drug users, and people who don’t go to prostitutes, then isn’t there something equally risky about their behavior? Shouldn’t they also be lumped in with the so-called risk groups? The point is that ultimately HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. It does not care about risk groups, urban groups or population mainstreams. The pandemic has gotten worse in the last 20 years not better, especially in Africa,
India, , and now Eastern Europe/Russia. Isn’t it time to stop speaking about “risk groups” and time to start talking about safe sex? China
It is here that the ideology of sex of in
Russiaand the converges. They both assume a hetero-normative position based on the ideal of monogamy. We know all too well, or we should know, that the Bush Administration has tied AIDS funding to abstinence education. The idea behind this is that no sex until marriage will cut down on unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Such a policy is starving organizations that urge condom as they find themselves more and more excluded from the money trough. Just read Helen Epstien’s excellent article “God and the Fight for AIDS” in the New York Review of Books. United States
The Russian case is different in this respect. There isn’t the brick wall of religion in the way. Denial has a different optic. Consider this statement from the article “Sex in Russia: Teeming with Unpleasant Surprises”: “On the other hand, an average Russian’s thoughts on safe sex include the following maxim: Having sex while wearing a condom is like smelling flowers while wearing a gas mask.” Yeah sure, and having sex without a condom could also be like inhaling nerve gas without a gas mask. The article continues that the risk/safe binary is so ingrained that:
“Many people doubt they can contract a disease simply because of their high social status – surely they and people they sleep with can’t possibly be infected. But STDs know no social boundaries, [urologist, Dr. Leonid] Spivak says: “Quite frequently, young women come in thinking they have cystitis [a urinary tract infection] that won’t go away, and we find gonorrhea. Of course, when you tell a young woman who’s well-off and professional and certain she’s clean that unfortunately, she has such a disease, she’s going to be rather shocked.”
I’ve read and heard other, more outlandish beliefs about AIDS. Myths and folklore that produce a shock in me perhaps comparable to that of the HIV infected “well-off and professional” Russian woman. AIDS is a number of things here. Rarely these things are anything close to the truth. AIDS is a CIA conspiracy. AIDS can be contracted by a cough, kissing, even touching. Many don’t understand the basic complexity of the disease—that there is a time lag between infection and symptoms. That it is a blood born disease that has a short lifespan outside of a plasma environment. Education about AIDS is sorely lacking. But the Russians do not possess a monopoly on such thinking. A recent
Congressional report on sex education showed that many American teens think similarly. U.S.
It also doesn’t help when the disease itself is so infused with stigma. Because many associate HIV/AIDS with risk behavior, those who are actually brave enough to disclose their infection to family, partners or even doctors can sow suspicion, hatred, and disgust. According to a Human Rights Watch report, HIV-positive women are frequently berated by doctors and nurses, sometimes refusing them treatment. Natasha R, a HIV-positive woman in her thirties from
, told Human Rights Watch the following: St. Petersburg
“She and her friends have found one way to avoid the contemptuous glances and rude treatment at the clinic – they have stopped going there altogether. “We go to our own clinic,” she said, referring to the St. Petersburg AIDS center. In theory, the local clinics are supposed to treat all HIV-positive patients within the district for comprehensive medical care—gynecological, dental, surgery, etc. But since many of these local doctors refuse to treat HIV-positive patients—and many HIV-positive patients refuse to continue to go there—the AIDS center has to pick up the slack. The lines are often very long, says Natasha R., but it is worth it to be able to avoid her local clinic”
Lenin’s slogan “??? ????” (who beats who) is eternally caught in a historical echo chamber. Its meaning and context changes but its core rhetorical power haunts the Russian societal landscape. If
was flesh those two words would protrude from its surface as keloid scars. ??? ???? silently hovers over the problem of HIV/AIDS. The question remains as to whether Russia will be “???” or will be “????”. At the current pace Russia will be the object and not the subject of this phrase. Russia
Sadly, full acknowledgment of this issue remains elusive. The Putin Government has taken steps, albeit very small, toward recognizing that there is a problem.
’s Minister of Finance recently approved an addition $20 million to the global fund against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria for 2005-2008. Kudrin also reported on the particular threat AIDS poses to Aleksey Kudrin, Russia . Mikhail Zurabov, head of the Health and Social Development Ministry, has also complained that the current government funding for AIDS treatment is only adequate for treating 1000 people. Even the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Vershbow noted the necessity to engage the Russian media to “talk up particular issues where we see problems that need to be addressed, whether it is sensitive issues like the independence of the media or social problems that they’re not paying enough attention to, like HIV/AIDS.” Russia
Unfortunately, states have done miserably in combating the short but deadly life of AIDS in the late 20th Century. In star-fucker culture of
, it was the death of Rock Hudson and the infection of Magic Johnson that partially awoke a sleepwalking public. Some suggest that this is what America needs; one of their cultural icons to contract or die of AIDS to make the disease a mainstream reality. Russia
But also In America it wasn’t until homosexuals took up radical positions toward sex that anything was accomplished. True they didn’t alter much as to how the government concretely dealt with the issue. What the activism of ACT-Up did with their slogan “Silence = Death” was to throw AIDS into the face of the homosexual community. It became a zero tolerance issue. Perhaps this is also one possibility for
. If the state isn’t going to recognize the issue then it must come from society itself. There are, however, signs of this necessary radicalism developing. In the tradition of ACT-Up, the group FrontAIDS looks to turn silence into death. They protest and chain themselves to government health buildings. They scream and shout about the reality of AIDS. We can only hope that their efforts are not in vain; that their small numbers can help penetrate the morass of denial. For this we can only wait and see. And hope. And hope that the shocking quantitave particularies of HIV/AIDS do not become a horrific qualititive universal. RussiaPost Views: 317