DATE=1/7/2000 TYPE=ON THE LINE TITLE=ON THE LINE: THE END OF THE YELTSIN ERA NUMBER=1-00811 EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037 CONTENT= THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE Anncr: On the Line - a discussion of United States policy and contemporary issues. This week, "The End of the Yeltsin Era." Here is your host, Robert Reilly. Host: Hello and welcome to On the Line. After eight years in power, Russian President Boris Yeltsin shocked Russians by announcing his resignation on New Year's Eve. Prime Minister Valdimir Putin immediately became acting president. Presidential elections are scheduled for March, leaving Mr. Putin a strong favorite. Mr. Yeltsin's bold stroke was typical of his tumultuous presidency. He defied a Communist coup attempt in 1991, and sent tanks to attack a rebellious Russian parliament in 1993. In 1996, he won a second term as president against great odds. His legacy includes the dismantlement of Communism, but Russia's transition to democracy has been plagued by massive corruption and a failure to follow through on needed reforms. Joining me today to discuss the end of the Yeltsin era are three experts. Anders Aslund is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former adviser to the Russian government. Vladimir Brovkin is project director at the Center for the Study of Transnational Crime and Corruption at American University. And David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of the book, Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union. Welcome to the program. Anders Aslund, with the intimate contact you had with the Russian government, and even an acquaintance with Boris Yeltsin, how do you size up the last eight years? Aslund: I would say that Boris Yeltsin will come out as one of the great heroes of the 20th century. Without him, the dissolution of the Soviet Union would not have been peaceful. Without him, Russia would not have easily have become a democracy. And thanks to Boris Yeltsin, Russia is bound to stay a market economy. Host: Vladimir Brovkin, do you agree with that assessment? Brovkin: I am sorry to say I do not. I think that Yeltsin will go down in history as probably the worst Russian ruler of the 20th century, except for Stalin. And the reason for that is that this was ten years of missed opportunities. Russia has not become a democracy. Russian has not built a market economy. Russian has become a criminalized network of former party officials and parvenu Mafiosi who run the show and call it a democracy. Host: And you lay that at Yeltsin's feet? Brovkin: I can not say he is the author of this. But it happened while he was president and, ultimately, he is responsible. I would not say that he personally meant it that way. I do not think so. In 1991, and when Mr. Aslund worked with him, they meant well. I know they meant well. They meant to build a market economy and a democracy. But it did not come out that way. Host: David Satter, you have long been a student of the Soviet Union and now Russia. Could it have come out another way? And did it not because of Boris Yeltsin's failure, or do you incline more toward Anders Aslund's assessment? Satter: I think it could have happened differently. The problem with the Soviet Union, and it's a mistake that many people make, is that it was based on a system that destroyed human morality. And it destroyed respect for the individual. The essential difference between the Soviet Union and the West was that, in the West, the individual is an end in himself. In the Soviet Union, the individual was simply a means toward the achievement of a utopian political and economic system, which could not exist in fact, in reality. Under these circumstances, the first priority had to be to restore the dignity of the individual. And that did not happen after the fall of the Soviet Union. There was an attempt to transform economic structures. But the transformation of the economic structures meant very little if the status of the individual was not protected. Host: But a moral and spiritual problem of that magnitude, after more than a half century of devastation, can that be addressed politically? Satter: In a sense, it was addressed politically because, during the perestroika period, it was a moral revolution that put an end to Communism and put an end to the Soviet Union. People did not throw off the burden of Communism for economic reasons. It was a genuine rebellion against totalitarian lies and oppression. And it was that movement that lost all power and all force in the Russia that Yeltsin created. And he deserves a generous share of the blame for that. Host: Anders Aslund, let us get your reaction to that. Aslund: Sorry, you have to remember a few simple things. First, it was [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev who ran the economy down totally. It was Gorbachev who refused to go for democracy. Mikhail Gorbachev was never democratically elected to anything. He was elected president of the Soviet Union by an undemocratic, partly appointed, partly elected parliament in uncontested elections. And Mikhail Gorbachev defended the Soviet Union until the very end. I remember very well one day in December 1991 when Yeltsin came, in a splendid mood, to a meeting we had. He had convinced the Soviet general command to go for Russia, and not for the Soviet Union. If the Soviet general command had followed Gorbachev, who had met with them the day before, we would have seen a Yugoslav situation. Don't you understand what a great hero Yeltsin is? These were the real choices. And you both know very well what an awful place the Soviet Union was. And to think that you can transform an awful kleptocracy, where everybody has to steal at a certain level, into a lawful democracy with the rule of law and a fully-fledged market economy is totally unrealistic. Say that the standard of living in Russia has fallen by thirty percent with the collapse of Communism. Frankly, I think that is cheaper than we could have anticipated. When there were no people with a Western education in economics or social sciences, of course, they had to make mistakes. We must look upon the Russian reality as it was and see what was possible. And we also have to remember that, in the first year when Yeltsin was in power, the West did not do a single thing to support him. Host: Let us get a reaction to that. Brovkin: There are many reactions. With all the faults of Gorbachev, he did not use force. He didn't, whereas Yeltsin did. He shot at the parliament. He shot at Chechnya. And the moral question is very important here. Because, symbolically, in 1989 to 1990, when the tremendous opportunity of moral revival and hope for the better future existed, you all remember that the Russian intelligentsia and the Russian people were chanting these words: "For your freedom and ours." And now, they are supporting the total physical destruction of a people. And it is supposedly the reformers who are doing this, your friends, [former deputy prime minister Anatoly] Chubais and [acting Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and the so-called democrats and reformers who are engaged in systematic murder. And the Russian people are supporting it. Isn't that a symbolic transformation that is not a democracy? Aslund: To start with Gorbachev, he was in charge of a massacre in Tblisi in April 1989, a massacre in Baku in 1990, instigated by Moscow, and two minor massacres in Lithuania and Riga in January of 1991. And the course he pursued in the military would have led to massive killing that did not take place thanks to Yeltsin. I am not defending the war in Chechnya. I agree that this is the major drawback. There are other drawbacks against him. One is that he did not go for the building of democratic institutions soon enough, so that it came to a showdown with the parliament. The alternative would have been to dissolve the parliament earlier. And generally, heroes are not for everyday life. Yeltsin is, in many ways, a parallel character to Churchill, a great but in may ways flawed character. Satter: I agree with Anders in his criticism of Gorbachev. And it was no small massacre in Vilnius. The number of people killed was actually greater than the number of people killed in Tblisi. But nonetheless, I cannot accept the idea that Yeltsin is significantly better because, in a very fundamental way, both of them are products of the Soviet nomenklatura. And they think and act in exactly the same way. Their objectives were different, but those objectives were defined by their personal ambitions, not by any kind of moral goals, and certainly not by any broader understanding of what was necessary for their country. The problem that we had with Yeltsin when he took over is that the moral revolution, which put an end to Communism, was betrayed. Host: By whom? Satter: By Yeltsin and the people around him. And Yeltsin put his faith and wagered the future of the country on the old Communist nomenklatura, which simply divided up the property of the former Soviet Union and drove the country to an exceptional and unjustified level of poverty. What I have seen in Russia, in post-Communist Russia, and this is in no way an apology for Communist Russia, is a level of disregard for the fate of individuals that can only be explained by the moral destruction of the individual in Russia that has been going on since the beginning of the 20th century. When people are starving, when people are unable to get medical care, when children faint in school from hunger, when people are so defeated that they do not even bother to treat themselves because they know they cannot afford medicines, it is somehow more than criminal for members of the former nomenklatura to steal on the scale on which they are stealing and to export money illegally from the country. Host: Let me ask you this, if I may, just to slightly shift the focus of the discussion, because I think you would all agree that the Soviet Union itself was a kleptocracy of a sort, oraganized along different ways. . . Satter: It had its keptocratic elements, but it wasn't a kleptocracy. It was a country based on an ideology, and that was what was the principal animating element of the Soviet Union. Host: Right. A number of people who still believed in that ideology happened to have dominated the Russian parliament for the entire period of Boris Yeltsin's presidency. And to what extent did they prevent a moral revolution from happening? Satter: I do not agree with that either. I think that there is an artificial distinction drawn in the West, in my view, between the so-called democrats and the so-called hard-line Communists, democrats supposedly being in the executive branch, the Communists finding a place for themselves in the legislative branch. In fact, they are all Communists. The Communists never lost power in Russia. In terms of the Communist mentality, it is just as present on the side of the democrats as it is on the side of the Communists. And as far as greed is concerned, the Communists are just as greedy and just as anxious to get their turn at the trough as the democrats are. Host: But you cannot blame Boris Yeltsin for that. That is the legacy of the Soviet Union, is it not? Brovkin: I would also agree with Anders that there are certain things that governments can do. That is what he has been saying for years. That there are certain things that you have got to do now with shock therapy, with markets and so forth. What Yeltsin decided to do in 1994, especially in 1995-96, is to rule with the use of corruption as a mechanism of preserving power. It was a decision. You let them steal so that they will not rebel, so that they do not overthrow me. He let the Russian army steal as much as it wanted as long as it presented no coup attempts against Yeltsin. And they did, starting with Germany, the troop removal from Germany and then the Baltics, and so forth. It is the same thing now with aluminum and oil, and so forth. And let me tell you one more thing. The Russian people have a hard time comprehending that somebody can own oil, just as much as Russian peasants had a hard time believing that somebody can own the land. There is tremendous resentment against people like [oil magnate] Abramovich and [Boris] Berezovsky and [former prime minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin, and [Anatoly] Chubais, the friend of Aslund, who all of a sudden became billionaires. Out of what? It is just incomprehensible. And I think we will see the result of that resentment. In some form, it will be felt later on down the road. Host: Anders Aslund, has the massive corruption fatally compromised the transition to democracy in Russia? Aslund: First, I do not think so. But let us go to the background here. If I do not remember wrongly, you were both against radical reforms in the early 1990s. At least you, Vladimir, were. And what you are saying now is that there was not enough of this continuity. That is exactly what I was saying then, and it was exactly what Yeltsin was pushing for. What you are accusing Yeltsin of is that he lost to people like you, who said, you cannot rush so fast; you have to go more slowly. If you go more slowly, you are eaten up by the Communists, yes, the old nomenklatura, the old thieves. The system Gorbachev left behind was the most kleptocratic system that ever existed because it was really reformed so that the state enterprise managers could freely steal from their enterprises. That was the rationale, though, of course, no one said it. We know it now, afterwards. And Yeltsin tried to do as much as he could to break it. We all think that he should have done more. We do not really know how much was possible. But at the time, I was pushing for a more radical break. And at least you, Voloyda, were pushing for less of a break. That's really what we are discussing now. And then to your question about corruption. I think that the fundamental thing is that the monopoly of power, economic and political power, is broken. Russia today is not really a liberal democracy, but it is a democracy of sorts. It is a highly pluralist society. And what we are seeing today is that we know a lot about what is going on in Russia because the nasty people are attacking one another, and they are using all media in order to do so. And they are also fighting over the money. And this is how a society becomes honest, because there is too much competition between the crooks. That was really what the end of feudalism and mercantilism in Europe was about. Host: We certainly have a dispute about the nature of Yeltsin's legacy. Let us go on and see how this disagreement affects the issue of his attempt, it appears, through his resignation, to secure the legacy by basically choosing the next president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Is that indeed why he resigned, or, as some suggest, that there was a palace coup, and he was told, go now with immunity or things will get rough? Brovkin: I can tell you what I think about the situation. I think that, in the long term, Putin, as a symbol of unity between the family, meaning Yeltsin's entourage, and the K-G-B people and the general staff people are irreconcilable. It is an unnatural marriage of convenience. This alliance will have to break. Host: Why? Brovkin: Because they hate each other. The people who are behind the war in Chechnya, all these Russian generals who hate the U.S and NATO and Kosovo and so forth, who hated Yeltsin for giving in too much to Western pressure - they certainly are not admirers of [Boris] Berezovsky and [Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana] Dyachenko, and all this entourage of people. Putin was playing the right political game of doing all the right things, going through the hoop to please Yeltsin. And indeed he may deliver personal security to the family, but that would be the bottom line. In the end, he would have to chose. He is either going to be the guardian of the family and the elite around it, or he will be with those who really back him, and that is the army, the general staff and the K- G-B. I am calling it the K-G-B in a sort of a semantic way. It is the F-S-B [Federal Security Bureau] now, of course. Host: David Satter, what do you think about that? Satter: I agree, but only up to a point. There is one possibility that I think Valdimir is not taking into account. Their marriage is indeed unnatural, although we should not overlook the extent to which the F-S-B and the military are thoroughly corrupted. In Russia today, businesses that want protection can get protection not only from gangsters, they can get it from the F-S-B. So in effect, the F-S-B has become a protection agency, which can be hired out by business people to protect them from gangsters and to deal with the gangsters. This, needless to say, has a very corrupting influence. So, it is not wise to exaggerate the extent to which the F-S-B, as it exists today, is the defender of traditional Russian values or anything of the kind. But there is another factor in all this that we really have to keep in mind that is terribly important. The people around Yeltsin were not and are not fools. If they chose Putin to succeed Yeltsin, and I am sure that it was a collegial decision -- the influence of Yeltsin's entourage over a man who is now very sick and frequently inattentive is considerable -- it is because they have confidence that he will not betray him and them. And that may well be because he is involved in some of their crimes. Host: Anders Aslund, Putin is possibly going to become the new president. He also is going to have a parliament which is far more favorable toward prospective reforms. Do you think he will follow through on what Yeltsin was unable to do? Aslund: I think that Putin is much more likely to undertake systematic reforms. He is a pragmatic person and indeed is likely to have the parliamentary majority behind him. For the first time, the parliament is really clearly anti- Communist. I think that Russia is moving ahead. Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this week. I would like to thank our guests -- Anders Aslund from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Vladimir Brovkin from the Center for the Study of Transnational Crime and Corruption at American University and David Satter from the Hudson Institute -- for joining me to discuss the end of the Yeltsin era. This is Robert Reilly for On the Line. Anncr: You've been listening to "On the Line" - a discussion of United States policies and contemporary issues. This is --------. 07-Jan-2000 11:27 AM EDT (07-Jan-2000 1627 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .