Accessibility links

Breaking News

Security Watch: August 22, 2001

22 August 2001, Volume 2, Number 32
ON 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF AUGUST 1991 PUTSCH, POLITICAL REHABILITATION FOR GKChP? Vasilii Starodubtsev, one of the former members of so called State Committee for Emergency Situations (GKChP), which led the antidemocratic coup attempt in August 1991, said that a public committee has been founded for the purpose of rehabilitating the plotters, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 14 August. Starodubtsev, who is now governor of Tula Oblast, noted that the goal of the committee is to prove that the GKChP committed no crime and even gave an order "not to shoot people." As for the three young men killed in Moscow during the putsch, their deaths were "staged by democrats," said Starodubtsev.

MEMBERS OF GKChP FIND THEIR PLACES IN NEW RUSSIA. Ten years after the abortive putsch, several of the coup leaders are enjoying a quite respectable social status in modern Russia, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 August. The former chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet, Anatolii Lukyanov, is the head of the Duma Committee for State Affairs; the former chief of staff of President Mikhail Gorbachev, Valerii Boldin, is vice president of a major oil industry bank; the former chairman of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, is the head of the analytical center Region of the Moscow city government commercial corporation Sistema; the former commander in chief of the Soviet Army Ground Forces, Valentin Varennikov, recently was the head of the Duma Committee for Veterans and president of the Association of Heroes of Russia; and former Vice President Gennadii Yanaev is a consultant for a national pension fund.

RUSSIA REMEMBERS THE 1991 COUP. Taking part in a recent roundtable on the events of the attempted coup on 19 August 1991, political allies of former President Boris Yeltsin, among them the former speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Ruslan Khasbulatov, former Prime Minister Ivan Silaev, former Press Minister Mikhail Poltaranin, and former State Secretary Gennadii Burbulis, expressed their regret at the disintegration of the Soviet Union that followed the coup, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 33, reported. Meanwhile, in a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, 10 percent of respondents described the 1991 events as a "democratic revolution," while 43 percent evaluated them as a "power struggle." Only 20 percent of respondents thought that the plotters were defeated as result of the "people's resistance," while in 1991, 57 percent of respondents in a similar poll thought so. An even smaller number (9 percent) now believe that putsch leaders lost because of the decisive actions of Yeltsin and the Russian leadership at the time, while in 1991, 55 percent of the respondents shared that opinion.

...AS LEFT OPPOSITION FIGURES CALL ON PUTIN TO THROW OFF YELTSIN'S YOKE... A group of 43 Communist and left-wing opposition leaders published a letter in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 14 August appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin and "patriotic elements of the ruling elite" to stop the next phase of liberal economic reforms and "rid themselves of the deadly heritage of Yeltsinism." The letter was printed on the 10th anniversary of the publication of the similar "Letter to the People" that appeared prior to the August 1991 coup. Like that first letter, the new appeal was signed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Aleksandr Prokhanov, the publisher of the radical anti-Western weekly "Zavtra."

...AND ASK 'CHEKISTS' TO TAKE OVER REINS OF POWER. The authors of the new letter write that they have no "illusions about the abilities or internal motivation of Vladimir Putin," but they are still asking him "to free himself from Yeltsin's entourage, which is hated by the people." The authors also ask the "chekists" and "patriotic men in the power agencies" to take over management of the state from "dilettantes" such as Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin.

PUBLIC OPINION EXPERT EXPLAINS ATTITUDES TOWARD 1991 PUTSCH. Writing in "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 33, Yurii Levada, the director of the polling agency VTsIOM, said that most Russians do not celebrate the failure of the pro-communist coup of August 1991, because in their opinion there were two conspiracies to stage a coup in Russia at that time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2001). The first, unsuccessful plot was organized by older members of the nomenklatura, who were antagonistic to reform. The second conspiracy was the successful one orchestrated by Boris Yeltsin and his "democratic" entourage. The two plots had two things in common, according to Levada: They were coup d'etats rather than revolutions, and they were more destructive than creative. Levada added that this attitude toward the August events explains why most Russians looking to the past see themselves more as witnesses than as persons who were involved in a historical process.

GORBACHEV REGRETS THAT HE DID NOT SEND YELTSIN TO A 'BANANA REPUBLIC'... In an interview with "La Stampa" on 16 August about the August 1991 coup, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that he made mistakes by delaying a reform of the Communist Party and postponing the transformation of the Soviet Union. He said his other mistake was that he "did not send the then-leader of [the] democrats, Boris Yeltsin, to a banana republic as an ambassador." Gorbachev noted that once Yeltsin became Russia's president, he failed to expand and preserve the democratic achievements of "perestroika." Gorbachev also added that he ended his personal relationship with Yeltsin in December 1991, when Yeltsin demanded that he vacate his Kremlin office in one day.

...AND REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PUTIN... In a separate interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 August, Gorbachev said that he has far warmer feelings toward Putin and supports "his strategy." "I like the caution with which Putin is moving on socioeconomic reforms," Gorbachev stated. He also said he does not share the view that under Putin, "the [Russian] people got their fear back.... People have nothing to fear, but the nomenklatura has angst from having lost its [place at the] feeding trough," he concluded.

...WHILE FORMER KGB CHIEF'S LOATHING FOR GORBACHEV ONLY GROWS. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Vek," No. 32, former KGB head Vladimir Kryuchkov said he trusts Putin and believes that "by his sober policy he will return to Russia her former might." On the other hand, Kryuchkov said his attitude toward Gorbachev is deteriorating every year. He said he does not think the State Committee for Emergency Situations actions constituted an attempt at a "coup," adding that he believes that the people who foiled the effort were the ones who really "committed a crime."

DUMA COMBINES SOVIET CREST WITH RUSSIAN COAT OF ARMS. The Soviet crest will remain on the facade of the State Duma's Moscow headquarters, while the new Russian coat of arms will be set along side it, the deputy chief of the Duma's staff, Anatolii Popov, told Russian news agencies on 15 August. According to Popov, that decision was made despite protests by liberal parliamentarians, because the Soviet symbol "is a part of the building's [original] architectural design and has historical value."

VOLGOGRAD CONTEMPLATES NAME CHANGE BACK TO STALINGRAD. Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta announced on 10 August that the city of Volgograd may return to its former name of Stalingrad in 2003 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, Russian agencies reported. Maksyuta claimed that he is receiving "a lot of letters from people asking him to rename the city for the 60th anniversary." According to Maksyuta, the oblast's Legislative Assembly is likely to adopt a decision to hold a referendum on the name change. Meanwhile, President Putin has said that his attitude toward the Maksyuta's proposal is simple: he will accept the "opinion of the people," the website reported on 13 August.

ECONOMISTS CONSIDER LEGACY OF AUGUST 1998 DEFAULT. The deputy head of the government staff, Aleksei Volin, told Interfax on 16 August that the Russian financial crisis that began on 17 August 1998 marked the beginning of the end of a "speculative economy based on quick super-profits." However, Volin noted, the results of the default and devaluation wound up being favorable for Russia, because "a sick and, to a large extent, virtual economy was replaced by a real and pragmatic economy based on living within one's means instead of borrowing." And Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Institute of Globalization, told the agency the same day that "the merit of the August crisis was that it set Russian businesses in motion."

RUMSFELD, IVANOV, PUTIN BEGIN LONG, SLOW PROCESS. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrapped up talks in Moscow with President Putin and his Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov by telling journalists that Russia and the U.S. should work to achieve greater trust in the military sphere, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Rumsfeld drew attention to the "vigorous start of the talks" on strategic stability, but noted that the process does not promise to be quick. On the positive side, Rumsfeld remarked that over the past 25 years, Washington has worked out with Moscow a sophisticated system of agreements that the U.S. does not have with any other country. In his comments on the talks, Putin declared that he is still waiting for more specific U.S. proposals on "what armaments will be cut, how big the cuts will be, how long they will take." Ivanov said that Russia expressed its "firm and unequivocal support" for preserving the ABM Treaty. However, he added that "of course, we understand that we are living in a post-Cold War world and are prepared to agree with our American colleagues that the current system of agreements on strategic stability needs to be adjusted."

RUSSIAN EXPERT HAS SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT MISSILE DEFENSE. One of the leading Russian designers of strategic missiles, Yurii Sizov, told ITAR-TASS on 15 August that the missile defense system elaborated by the U.S. cannot guarantee the national security of a country, but it can still be an important element of a system of control for global stability. Sizov suggested that the U.S. should redefine its proposal as a "global defense system" with the participation of Russia and the other major powers. According to Sizov, such a system could serve two basic functions: to act as a shield against missile attack and as a protective shield against falling asteroids.

DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE CENTER IN CUBA... Defense Minister Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov refused on 15 August to confirm media reports that the process of dismantling the Russian electronic espionage center in Lourdes, Cuba, has begun, RIA-Novosti reported. According to articles in "Izvestiya" on 14 August and "Versiya," No. 33, Russia began withdrawing the center's personnel after it failed to come to an agreement with Cuba about who will finance it. The center is run jointly by Russia's Third Directorate of the Federal Agency for Government Communication and Information and the Sixth Directorate of Russian Military Intelligence, and employs about 1,000 personnel at a cost of about $300 million a year.

...FOLLOWING VOLOSHIN'S VISIT. Over the last decade, the center, which was designed to intercept U.S. electronic communications, began to lose its intelligence-gathering significance as the U.S. started to use more advanced ciphering systems and technology to help prevent eavesdropping. In addition, Lourdes continued to be a political obstacle between Moscow and Washington as the U.S. Congress adopted legislation last year banning any loans to Russia until Lourdes is dismantled. Also on 15 August, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin wrapped up his visit to Cuba following a six-hour meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2001).

SIX RUSSIAN COMPANIES MAKE LIST OF TOP GLOBAL WEAPON PRODUCERS. According to the U.S. magazine "Defense News," No. 32, a half-dozen Russian defense companies are represented on its list of the 100 leading global weapon producers. The Russian group is headed by Rosvooruzhenie, which ranks 13th with revenues of $3.09 billion; Sukhoi is 35th with $900 million; Severnaya verf nabs 52nd with $532 million; Antei is 62nd with $350 million; MiG is 88th with 100 million; and Tula Rifles Works is 90th with $90 million.

RUSSIAN DEFENSE INDUSTRY PINS GREAT HOPES ON AVIATION SECTOR. Speaking at Moscow's MAKS-2001 air show on 15 August, Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov said that the Russian aviation industry is producing about 30 percent of all defense-sector production and is responsible for 60 percent of Russia's weapon exports, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Rosoboroneksport General Director Andrei Belyaninov reported that for the first half of 2000 his agency exported weapons worth $2.8 billion. Belyaninov also noted that the portfolio of prospective contracts for his agency is at a record high, having reached $13 billion.

IS MVD AT ODDS WITH DEFENSE MINISTRY ON DRAFTEES? The newly appointed chief of Moscow's Interior Ministry directorate, Vladimir Pronin, has proposed that rather than being drafted into the army, young Muscovites should instead serve in the ranks of the city police, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 August. Pronin added that his proposal is dictated by the "catastrophic shortage" of young cadres for his agency. "Izvestiya" noted that Pronin's offer might not prove too appealing to young Muscovites, since after serving in the police on a contract basis, they would still be eligible to be drafted for compulsory military service.

IS THE ARMY UNHAPPY WITH PUTIN? The initial euphoria of the Russian officer corps toward President Putin has subtly begun to be replaced by embarrassment and even dissatisfaction, "Vek," No. 32, concluded. Part of the reason, according to the publication, is that the hike in officers' salaries that Putin promised would take effect by 1 January 2002 has been shifted to mid-2003. And the increase in wages for the military rank and file has likewise been postponed from 2003 to 2004. In addition, officers are increasingly resorting to legal proceedings to ensure that their payments are disbursed since paychecks are being issued with more frequent delays. So far this year the Defense Ministry has already paid out 150 million rubles ($5.1 million) as a result of such lawsuits.

FORMER DIPLOMAT CONVICTED AGAIN OF SPYING FOR SOUTH KOREA. A Moscow city court on 14 August found former Russian diplomat Valentin Moiseev guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 4 1/2 years in prison, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The previous day, state prosecutor Vladimir Titov had asked the court to sentence Moiseev to 12 years in prison, because such a sentence would be "the minimal punishment set for such crime," RTR reported. Moiseev was previously sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1999, but in 2000 the Supreme Court annulled the verdict and ordered the second trial, leaving Moiseev in custody. Moiseev is now eligible to be released in less than 1 1/2 years since his time in pretrial detention counts toward his sentence, ITAR-TASS reported. One of Moiseev's attorneys, Kseniya Kostromina, told the bureau that Moiseev plans to appeal the verdict.

MVD TAKES A CRITICAL LOOK AT ITS CAMPAIGN AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME. The head of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, Aleksandr Ovchinnikov, said on 16 August that every officer from the Regional Units for Combatting Organized Crime (RUBOP) recently disbanded by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, will be subjected to security checks by the ministry's Internal Security Services, reported on 16 August. Ovchinnikov said that the MVD's new leadership will take very seriously citizens' complaints that RUBOP units often served as "protective networks" for the underworld. "Those who are found guilty of this practice will be punished very harshly," he remarked. Finally, Ovchinnikov said that the functions of disbanded regional units will be transferred to the operative-detective bureaus to be organized at the MVD's Main Directorate offices in the seven federal districts.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT RETAKES CONTROL OVER BROADCASTING'S TECHNICAL BASE... As expected (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2001), Russian President Putin signed on 13 August a decree re-establishing federal government control over all of Russia's broadcasting and relay stations for television and radio signals by consolidating them under the management of a single government corporation, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. According to the text of the decree as published on the website, the newly created corporation, Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network (RTRS), will assume control over the federal signal distribution center in Moscow as well as its regional subdivisions located in subjects of the Russian Federation. The decree also empowers the government to cancel any agreements or deals that would result in the "illegal estrangement of technical means and objects from federal ownership."

...AS LESIN SAYS FATE OF NTV TO BE DECIDED IN SEPTEMBER. The main lobbyist for the decree, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, explained his support for it on 13 August by saying that at present "nobody but the state can [adequately] finance the electronic mass media," ITAR-TASS reported. Lesin added that the question of issuing shares in the new company will only arise one or two years after the broadcasting market has stabilized. According to Lesin, the RTRS will pay for transmitting the signals of ORT and RTR and state-run radios "Mayak" and "Rossiya." Whether the NTV channel will be included in this number will become clear at the beginning of September, when "there will be one more document issued concerning the electronic media."

MORE CHANGES IN STORE FOR STATE MEDIA POLICY. President Putin met with Media Minister Mikhail Lesin and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 15 August, and according to a presidential press release, the three men discussed questions relating to the "future development of state strategy supporting the formation of the electronic and print media," "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The daily also reported without reference to sourcing that the Media Ministry is preparing a new package of documents concerning state policy regarding the mass media that will be released in September.

CHINA ASKS RUSSIA FOR HELP IN PERSECUTING FALUN GONG. The Chinese government has asked Moscow to suspend the activities of Russian followers of the Chinese religious sect Falun Gong, which has been banned by Beijing, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 August. The Chinese government also requested that the Russian government prevent Falun Gong's members from holding a planned press conference in Moscow. In a letter handed over by the Chinese military attache in Moscow to the Russian Interior Ministry, the Chinese side expressed its appreciation for that ministry's efforts to combat "religious sects of an extremist nature."

PUTIN CALLS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES TO BE INVOLVED IN PRIVATIZATION... President Putin met with State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin on 13 August to discuss the state's privatization program that is planned for 2002, Russian agencies reported. According to Interfax, Putin called for creating opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, even those with small starting capital, to participate in the program. Putin and Gazizullin also discussed the law on privatization that was passed in its first reading by the State Duma.

GORBACHEV AND HIS PARTY GIVE PUTIN AN EARLY ENDORSEMENT. The former president of the Soviet Union and leader of the newly created United Social Democratic Party of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev, has announced that his party will back President Putin during the next presidential election, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 August. According to Gorbachev, Putin's policies reflect the general interests of social democrats despite some mistakes. Gorbachev added that his party was founded as an alternative to the Communist Party, and that Putin told him in a personal conversation about "his sympathy toward social democrats."