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Western Press Review: Russian 'Enigma' Lives On

  • Don Hill



Prague, 27 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Several U.S. and German newspapers turn their attention to aspects of life in Russia.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia's intelligence manpower and structures have remained the same

Commentator Miriam Neubert of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes today that the Russian secret services have fragmented, but hardly shrunk, since the totalitarian days. She says: "The once all-powerful Russian secret service has been in the throes of permanent reform ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In order to neutralize the KGB, officials split it into a number of successor agencies answerable to the president."

Neubert writes: "The agency that is felt to have undergone least change is the military secret service, the GRU, which is attached to the defense ministry and has special troops of its own. Like the Russian armed forces as a whole, the GRU has been hit by the government's shortage of cash. But newspaper reports claim that it has a much larger number of agents abroad than the SVR (agency in charge of foreign intelligence). Russia denies claims from abroad that its espionage activities have increased. Generally, however, Russia, as a great power, lays claim to the same right to undertake intelligence work as any other country, and its intelligence manpower and structures have, by and large, remained the same."

The writer says: "The FSB (in charge of domestic security and internal intelligence) also attaches great importance to preventing foreign espionage. Its director, Nikolai Kovalyov, recently called on all Russians who worked for a foreign power to report to the authorities and work as double agents. Understandably, nothing has been said about the degree of success achieved by this unusual appeal."

Now come disclosures that Olga Ivinskaya -- author Boris Pasternak's mistress, assistant and muse, model for his lyricized heroine, Lara, in the love story novel, Dr. Zhivago -- was also a KGB informer on Pasternak.

NEW YORK TIMES: The Khrushchev letter may inspire biographers and historians to dig deeper into Ivinskaya's secret life

Alessandra Stanley writes today in The New York Times: "There is no more enduring Russian love story than that of writer Boris Pasternak and the woman who was the model for Lara, the radiant heroine of Doctor Zhivago. Except that now it seems that the real-life Lara, Pasternak's longtime mistress, muse and literary assistant, Olga Ivinskaya, informed on him to the KGB. In 1961, while a prisoner of the Soviet gulag, where she was sent because of her association with Pasternak, Olga Ivinskaya wrote to Nikita Khrushchev begging for her freedom and reminding him of how she cooperated with the government's efforts to silence the writer."

Stanley wrote: "Pasternak met the woman who would serve as his model for Lara in 1946, when he was married, 56 and a famous poet, and she was a beautiful 34-year-old widow working at the literary magazine Novy Mir. He began writing Doctor Zhivago in 1948. It was banned by the Soviets, who considered it a slander of the Russian Revolution. In 1949, she was arrested and sentenced to four years of hard labor because of her association with Pasternak."

The newspaper writer said: "The Khrushchev letter may inspire biographers and historians to dig deeper into Ivinskaya's secret life, but Pasternak's friends and colleagues would prefer to keep that part of history buried. "Pasternak loved her," said the poet Andrei Voznesensky, who was a close friend of Pasternak. "It is not for us to judge his muse."

Two U.S. newspapers analyzed this week two aspects of Russia's writhing economy, one general, one uncomfortably specific:

NEW YORK TIMES: What Thailand did was crystallize an understanding of the real risks involved

Thomas L Friedman's commentary in today's New York Times -- "Russia has got Thailand disease, and I'm not talking about the flu."

He writes: "To understand the dangers posed to Russia's economy by the events in Thailand you need to keep in mind the following: A lot of money that has poured into emerging markets lately is dumb money. That is, investors were really just reaching for the highest yields and had not properly evaluated the risks involved or, in many cases, didn't even know what stocks or bonds they owned in these distant markets. What Thailand did was crystallize an understanding of the real risks involved. Many investors reacted by calling their brokers and screaming, 'Get me out of all emerging markets,' while others demanded much higher risk premiums to stay. Russia is getting hit with both reactions."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The dream of exploiting Siberian natural resources dates back to the czars

Richard C. Paddock's news feature in yesterday's Los Angeles Times -- "In the frozen Siberian wilderness, there lies an untapped territory so abundant in natural resources that Russian officials proclaim it the richest region on Earth. Someday, they say, a monumental rail line -- a second Trans-Siberian Railway -- will haul minerals and timber from this hinterland and make Russia wealthy. The dream of exploiting this fortune dates back to the czars. Communist rulers embraced the idea, and 60 years ago Josef Stalin sent prisoners to cut through the impenetrable mountains and begin building the Baikal-Amur Railway.

"Now, long after the railroad's original designers died, the forests, ore and coal would appear to be within reach. At an estimated cost of $10 billion, the Baikal-Amur Railway is nearly complete, and its last tunnel could be finished by the end of the decade. Using temporary bypasses around construction zones, the railroad has been moving some cargo with little fanfare since 1989."

Paddock writes: "But the economic stagnation gripping the country has postponed fulfillment of the ambitious development plan its boosters say is the key to Russia's prosperity. The huge factories designed to smelt the ore and mill the lumber exist only on paper, and the government does not have the money to build them."
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