DATE=4/1/2000 TYPE=ON THE LINE TITLE=ON THE LINE: THE RUSSIAN ELECTION NUMBER=1-00835 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 Russian Election." Here is your host, Robert Reilly. Host: Hello and welcome to On the Line. Russians went to the polls to elect a new president. As expected, acting-President Valdimir Putin won the election with nearly fifty-three percent of the vote, compared to almost thirty percent for Communist candidate Gennadi Zyuganov. Mr. Putin is now preparing a comprehensive economic program for his inauguration in May. It remains to be seen how he will tackle the huge problems of corruption and lawlessness, and the continuing conflict in Chechnya. Joining me today to discuss the results of the Russian presidential elections are three experts. Helmut Sonnenfeldt is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and former counselor of the U.S. State Department. Paul Goble is director of Communications and Technology at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and a former State Department specialist on the nationalities of the former Soviet Union. And Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book, The Imperative of American Leadership. Welcome to the program. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, what significance do you assign to this presidential election? Sonnenfeldt: Well, they had it, although the circumstances where somewhat shady, the way it was wired and arranged. They had it and Putin seems to have won the majority that you stated and he is going to be president of Russia and, with that, they are entering another phase of their transition from what we know pretty well, namely the former Soviet Union, a totalitarian system, to something. Yeltsin did certain things that changed matters quite remarkably in Russia but petered out. And now will see where Putin is going to take it, what kind of leader he will be. We have some indications, maybe from his past, and some things he has said and written. But I think in the end, we will have to see how he takes his leadership position and what he does with it -- he has got enormous powers under the Yeltsin Constitution -- and how he uses them. Host: Paul Goble, can you give a little more definite shape to that something toward which they are now moving? Goble: I think that the most important thing about this election, -- other that what Mr. Sonnenfeldt said, that it took place -- is that, immediately after winning, president-elect Putin did something that no Russian leader has ever done before. He acknowledged that almost half of the electorate hadn't voted for him, that a large number of people didn't like what he stood for, that it was going to be absolutely necessary for him to find some way to work with those people if Russia was going to move forward. Unfortunately, the next largest party is the Communist party. And a coalition of Putin's Unity [party] and the Communists doesn't point in a very reformist direction. But it may mean that there will be a new kind of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches in Russia, something that could lead to a move toward a more legal state, a "rechtstadt," in which there will be real legislation to back up policy, rather than, as now, a pastiche of decrees, arbitrary actions and so forth. That would, under current conditions, be a step forward. It wouldn't be democracy necessarily anytime soon, but it could be the basis for the emergence of more vital civil society and a more effective Russian government. Host: Do you agree with that, Joshua Muravchik? Muravchic: I don't disagree with it, but I feel someone less upbeat [optimistic] about this election in that it had the qualities more of a coronation than an election. It's a very strange situation in which what was presumably an election campaign which when Putin was asked by reporters: What are you going to do if you are elected? He responded: I won't tell you. And Helmut Sonnenfeldt was saying a few moments ago: "well, now we will see what he is going to do or what he believes, and we are looking for clues in his past." It is a lot like how we used to greet the rise of a new general secretary of the Communist party in the Soviet Union. Host: What about Paul Goble's point that almost half the people in Russia voted against him? That's not a coronation in that respect. Muravchik: No. That's right. So it's not the same thing as the old days. But I think Paul was also saying that this is not quite an arrival at democracy. Goble: Absolutely. Muravchik: Because in a democracy you have a voting procedure, which they had in a fairly decent form, but you also have some kind of discourse that goes on in the voting procedure in which the electorate insists on knowing about who the candidates are and what they stand for. And that just didn't happen here. Sonnenfeldt: Obviously, he didn't want to go beyond the generalities that were in his tract that appeared on the Internet and other things that he has said, because he didn't want to make unnecessary enemies and he wanted to play the cards very close to himself and not commit himself to the things that he might regret. Host: But is not that typical behavior for a candidate who would say as little as possible to get support? Sonnenfeldt: Well it's not quite typical because he really didn't get into programmatic things. Now it's true that there are plenty of instances where candidates are very voluble about what they are going to do when they get into office, and then they do the opposite. So, on that score, I'll give him the chance to see what he comes up with in detail. It's regrettable that there wasn't more of a disclosure of that, but I think, okay, that's happened. I do think that given the power of decree that Yeltsin used enormously, there is a real question of how he is going to go about structuring whatever he's going to do: economic reform, the judicial system, dealing with corruption, dealing with oligarchs, and in foreign and defense policies, and so on. Whether he is going to try to get a consensus through what exists in the way of political institutions, or whether he is just going to announce it one fine day and everybody will salute him and say: "Yes, Sir." Goble: I think that it is terribly important to understand that he can try running the country by decree. I mean that's what Yeltsin tried to do. It probably can't be done in every case. I always opposed the December 1993 constitution because I thought it gave the president entirely too much power. But I think that Putin is going to do some ruling by decree. I think he's going to also try to begin to create a legal system. It's not going to be a liberal system; it's going to be a dictatorial system. But the system is broken down. The entity is broken down and, unless there is some predictability, I think he has a real problem in recreating it. Sonnenfeldt: If I can just make a quick point on that. Of course, I agree that issuing decrees from Moscow or orders or any kind doesn't mean that people even living in Moscow, let alone in more remote places, are going to respond as required. That was the problem even in the Communist period when there were all kinds of deals between [Leonid] Brezhnev and the local potentates where they paid their dues and Brezhnev let them do whatever they wanted at home. There is an indicator, if that's the right word, from something that Putin had said, or at least had speculated about, and that is whether they shouldn't appoint the regional leaders rather than have elections for them. And thereby do away with the whole notion of the Federation Council, the second chamber which was put in the constitution as one way of balancing the center. But his inclination seems to be that these people better work for him directly and he better know who they are, so that they'll do what he says, or else he will punish them, rather than having their own sources of political power. Host: But that would require a change in the constitution, would it not? But, Joshua Muravchik, it seems that there are a couple of things known about what he wants to do because he repeatedly says, we have to have a level playing field here in Russia for business. We have to have rule of law or that peculiar term he uses, a dictatorship of law, so that this is a safe place to invest, so that capital flight stops, so entrepreneurs can get on with their business. He seems to be keenly aware of that and what is required to create the conditions for normal business. Would you agree? Muravchik: Well, I'm not sure. The question is: he may have a keen sense of what, in theory, is required to create a hospitable atmosphere for business. But that doesn't means that he has a clear idea of how to achieve that. It's easier said than done. What I find worse are some stories, for example, that he has some grand notion of using the former K-G-B or its apparatus as an instrument to stamp out corruption. Well, in the old Soviet Union, the K-G-B was very effective and very strong, but they have plenty of corruption. It's not very good. The K-G-B or that apparatus is not a very good instrument, I don't think, for eliminating corruption. But it can be a very effective instrument for stamping out liberty. Host: How do you go about addressing the enormous problems that he and Russia are now facing with corruption, the lack of rule of law? Sonnenfeldt: How do you go about it? I don't have the problem. Host: You are not a candidate. Sonnenfeldt: One thing about Putin is that he doesn't have a whole lot of experience in that kind of thing either. He did do something in Leningrad and Saint Petersburg with [former Mayor Anatoly] Sobchak, now dead by a heart attack, which involved a certain amount of free enterprises and the risks of investment, and all of that. And I think even a judicial system locally, at least, that people were prepared to rely on. By in terms of his experience and skills, I don't think there is much there. So he gets himself people that he knows and, of course, he knows mostly K-G-B people and Saint Petersburg people, and the few others. And we'll see how brilliant these K-G-B people are in dealing with these issues. Goble: I don't think he's going to find it easy to succeed in any of the areas he's trying to go after. I think that he's going to find the problems so enormous that the effort to succeed will lead to other problems. If he tries to eliminate the elected governors, for example, he will prompt some of the regions to think about leaving, just as the Soviet Union fell apart when [Mikhail] Gorbachev tried to recentralize things in 1991. If he tries to go after the oligarchs, the oligarchs can make his life miserable. If he tries to eliminate one house of the legislature, there will be screams about a retreat from democracy even from Western countries. There are a whole lot of things he may try to do, impulses behind him. And I don't think he is going to be a success. I think he's is going to fail. Host: What about the one thing he said he needs to do most urgently, and that, as you mentioned, he may have a Duma that is more compliant to enact such a proposal, even though the Communists are still the largest single body within it, and that is finally the legalization of land ownership in Russia? Goble: He has to get fifty percent plus one votes for that, and he may not get it. Sonnenfeldt: I don't know whether he will get it or not. But if that's his impulse, the more power to him. Let him try. I can't judge whether these kinds of things that he says, either on the promising side or on the worrisome side, are things that he's going to be able to do and really wants to do. I think it really means we have to wait and see. And I don't think we can influence it very much. The only other thing that I want to say about it: I do hope he does concentrate on those issues and doesn't see glory and the sense of pride that he wants to restore in Russia by external adventures, because then, not only will he not succeed in making something of Russia, this very rich country, domestically, but he will get into something maybe not exactly resembling the Cold War but something that they lost once before. Host: What about his internal adventure in Chechnya, which is what vaunted him into the public eye as a viable candidate? Muravchik: Let's get to that in a moment. I just wanted to add another point on the previous points we were talking about. I want to bring it back to the initial point that I made, which is the absence of some kind of democratic discourse during the election campaign and the absence of a clear program of Putin coming forth and saying what it is he stands for. It may seem like clever politics because he had a lead and he didn't want to gamble anything. But the democratic process also is a process in which people who run for office rally a constituency behind a certain program. And when they get elected they can feel and point to a body of public support for what it is they are going to do. Whatever initiatives that Putin may take with regard to land reform or rule of law, or whatever it may be, he can scarcely claim or feel he's got a big body of sentiment that has registered itself behind him in implementing one program or another. Sonnenfeldt: We know he has no mandate. He will self-define a mandate and then see whether he can rustle up the necessary votes in the Duma or expressions of support. I think that's one of the realities. I don't like it, but that's what we've got to deal with. Goble: And the fact that he's likely to have a great deal of difficulty doing that makes the continuing conflict of Chechnya and the risks that he will pursue other adventures all that more likely. He's losing in Chechnya now. The Russians are taking greater casualties. That's going to continue. There is going to be a desire to find some way to stand tall, be proud. This is a position he has staked out -- that Russia needs to be in charge of things. And to the extent that he finds it difficult or impossible to assemble support for rule of law, for land reform, whatever, I think he's going to be ever more tempted to those kinds of adventures, given his past approach in Chechnya, and that the risks for Russia are enormous. Sonnenfeldt: One other thing, and that is that they have been patting themselves on the back for an economy that seems to be improving. But it's a windfall. It has to do with oil and gas prices. And indeed, they are making more money as a result, and they have added to their dollar holdings and reserves. Now the question is: will they know what to do with that, while they have it? There are statistics indicating that capital flight continues unabated because Russians themselves don't trust the system. I guess other Russians might trust it, but think the outside world is more trustworthy. So at the moment, that probably helped him in the election because people think that things are better and there is more food and clothing in the stores. Host: Josh Muravchik, do you have any worries such as you just heard about the foreign policy that might come from a Putin administration? Muravchik: Indeed, I have commented a few times now about the lack of discussion of the issues. So, there is that and there is really no long knowledge of who Putin is or was. What was his victory? His victory was that he's the hero of Chechnya, and so he's likely to have it in his mind that the way to really make out well politically is to be a war hero. I think that when he starts trying to implement some of the other kinds of projects that Paul was addressing and starts to have some of the difficulty that he is bound to have, there's going to be a very strong temptation laid out there to think, "now I'm in trouble; my popularity is going down, but I remember back in the glorious moment when I was the conqueror of Chechnya, then everybody loved me. So maybe I`ve got to rerun that scenario." Host: If you were U-S president, what would your approach be to Mr. Putin? Goble: Well, I think that we have to be very cautious. I think we should avoid saying anything definitive about what this man is. We should watch what he does; we shouldn't proclaim him a democrat. We shouldn't assume that we can do business with him, or assume we can't. Host: Didn't President Clinton basically get it right, saying we hope you are moving in the direction of establishing rule of law, fighting corruption, cooperating on proliferation? Sonnenfeldt: I think that is okay. I think we should watch our vocabulary. We shouldn't be talking about flourishing democracies and these various other phrases that became common usage a while back. I'm not so sure that President Clinton ought to be rushing over there to a meeting with him, although that seems to be standard practice. And of course, the president is leaving office so he may want to have that as part of his record. You have to deal with him; he's the president. We've got some interests that are quite important. We still, as far as I know, have the Nunn-Lugar program that assists them in getting rid of some nuclear weapons and the environmental problems and all that. So we can't simply say that we'll sit and wait and do nothing. But I would be cautious and not flamboyant. Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this week. I would like to thank our guests -- Helmut Sonnenfeldt from the Brookings Institution; Paul Goble from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and Joshua Muravchik from the American Enterprise Institute -- for joining me to discuss the Russian election. 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 --------. 31-Mar-2000 13:23 PM EDT (31-Mar-2000 1823 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .