Released in December 2001, “Russia: Can This Be Democracy?” marked the tenth anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Host Walter Cronkite and Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner compare press freedom in Russia and the United States.
WALTER CRONKITE: Long before the United States declared its war on terrorism, Russia launched its own campaign against terror in Chechnya. But unlike the US, Russia did not have global support for its military action in the breakaway republic. Russian President Putin is trying to change that in the wake of the September 11 events. He claims Osama bin Laden and his followers are also responsible for the Chechnya conflict. But as correspondent Kristin McHugh reports from the Chechen border, the war in Chechnya is far more complicated.
[Sound of baby chicks]
TIEMPIEVA HASAN: (Via Translator) We left when Gudermes (Guud-er-mez) was bombed. Gudermes was one of the first places hit. On that very day we happened to be in the center of town when the planes started to bomb.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: With tears in her eyes, Tempieva Hasan (Tee-meera Hah-san) recalls the day she and her family fled their home in Chechnya for this makeshift tent in nearby Ingushetia (In-gOO-shetia).
HASAN: My jaw was injured and I lost my teeth in the explosion. I am only 39 years old and I don’t have one tooth.
MCHUGH: Tiempieva is one of the estimated quarter of a million Chechens displaced by two wars in the past seven years. She now lives with her eight children, son-in-law, and two grandchildren in a tattered tent in Sputnik (Spuht-nick)…one of several camps in Ingushetia (In-gOO-shetia) set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
MCHUGH: Chechnya, a predominately Muslim area of southern Russia, declared its independence in 1991 in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia responded in 1994 by waging a brutal war.
[Helicopter and 30mm cannon firing]
A peace agreement granting Chechnya de facto independence ended Russia’s military campaign in 1996. Chechens quickly elected war hero Aslan Maskhadov (Maahsk-hah-dov) president. But his weak, secular government was unable to control criminals and fundamentalists. Muslim fundamentalists here are known generically as Wahhabis, although they’re not necessarily connected to the Saudi Arabian Islamic movement of the same name. The Wahhabis want to establish a strict Islamic state, but their views are rejected by much of the local population.
AZA: (Via Translator) For our Chechen society it was unacceptable.
MCHUGH:This is Aza, a petite 41 year-old Chechen who fled her homeland for neighboring Ingushetia.
AZA: They were demanding the women wear very strict hijab (hee-jab) outfits and they were also saying that people could not smoke. For centuries and centuries our women didn’t wear the hijab, and we didn’t have such strict rules. We were free people. We had pure Islam. We prayed five times a day.
MCHUGH: Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the Wahhabis are terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network. Putin blames the Wahhabis for masterminding a brief 1999 invasion into the Russian territory of Dagestan and a series of Russian apartment bombings that killed nearly 300 people. Dr. Vyacheslav (Vashi-slav) Nikonov is a former deputy chair of a state Duma committee on Chechnya and supports Putin’s policies.
VYACHESLAV NIKONOV: There was a lot of proof bin Laden was supporting them financially. So now, I think Americans understand a little bit more the complexity of terrorists and probably the Russians are not that evil in what they are doing in Chechnya because that is the place where they faced the same problems America faced on September 11.
MCHUGH: In years past, the United States was quick to criticize Russia’s alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya. But in the days following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration abruptly reversed its policy and said Russia was fighting its own battle against terrorists and Osama bin Laden in Chechnya.
[Small child and sounds in tent camp]
MCHUGH: Here in the tent camps, Aza and other refugees firmly deny the independence fighters are terrorists and scoff at the bin Laden connection.
AZA: It’s stupid to link these rebels with bin Laden. I don’t link the attack on the two buildings in America with Chechnya and the Chechen children. It’s a shame if Bush believes Putin when he says there is a link between the Chechen rebels and the terrorist act.
MCHUGH: While Chechens say bin Laden isn’t a player in their war, many are afraid of the Wahhabis. This refugee didn’t want to identify herself.
UNNAMED REFUGEE WOMAN: The Russian soldiers make people suffer during the day. During the night, the Wahhabis burst in and they treat us in the same way.
TRANSLATOR: After she said that the crowd said, ‘Why did you mention the Wahhabis?’
MCHUGH: Other camp residents immediately stopped the conversation. Criticizing the Wahhabis can be dangerous.
MCHUGH: The refugees agree that Aslan Maskhadov (Maahsk-hah-dov), who is now a separatist leader, enjoys widespread support in his drive for a secular, independent state.
AZA: Maskhadov is our president. He protects our motherland.
MCHUGH: But experts believe Maskhadov controls less than 20 percent of the armed resistance. The Wahhabis have more men with guns, but far less political support. And, some Wahhabis do engage in terrorist acts. Ruslan Badolov is Maskhadov’s (Maahsk-hah-dov) former sports minister.
RULAN BADOLOV: (Via Translator) There are so-called Wahabbis who are pure criminals. They kill and kidnap people. So there are terrorist groups here in Chechnya. But the Russian government doesn’t conduct antiterrorist operations by killing civilians in other parts of Russia.
MCHUGH: And there’s the irony. Brutal Russian tactics drive many Chechens into the arms of any independence group—even the extremist Wahhabis. Lawyer Sasita Muradova, who works in the Ingushetia office of Memorial, a Russian human rights group, says Russian troops are very corrupt. She has documented numerous cases of soldiers kidnapping people, and even dead bodies, for ransom.
SASITA MURADOVA: (Via Translator) Soldiers and tanks can approach any food market and just take everything. And now, it’s even, we know the cases when they, not only sell people—kidnap people—sell people—but they also sell corpses. This is awful.
[Balalaika music with no singing]
MCHUGH: Ordinary Chechens, like this balalaika player, are caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russian troops and rebel extremists. Representatives of President Putin and Aslan Maskhadov have met in an effort to end the conflict. But experts question whether either side is ready to seriously negotiate a lasting agreement. For now, daily armed clashes between Russian troops and rebel soldiers continue with mounting losses on both sides. With the territory still in turmoil—Chechens, like Tiempieva Hasan (Tee-meera Hah-san), can only dream of the day she and her family can safely pass through this border checkpoint and return home.
[Sounds of Kavkaz Checkpoint]
HASAN: We want to lead a normal life. If we were guaranteed today that there would be no more bombing, today, with my entire family, I would walk to Chechnya. I would not have spent a night here otherwise.
[Balalaika music with singing]
MCHUGH: For the Russia Project, I’m Kristin McHugh, Kavkaz checkpoint, on the Chechen border.
WALTER CRONKITE: The September 11 attacks have led to a major realignment in Washington-Moscow relations. But given the recent history of antagonism between the two powers, will the new-found alliance last? Correspondent Simon Marks has more.
[Sound Montage of September 11]
REPORTER: Another plane was seen by eyewitnesses careening into the left-hand tower. Smoke is pluming from both the towers.
EYEWITNESS: I saw people jumping out of—off the building. Many, many people just jumping, and in a panic I had my….
SIMON MARKS: The events of September 11 have staggered America—and led to rethinking many of the assumptions of US foreign policy. That includes reordering relations between Washington and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to contact President Bush in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.
LILIA SHEVTSOVA: This point brought Russia back to the Western world.
MARKS: Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is one of the preeminent analysts of the Russian political scene. As a critic of President Putin, she was rather surprised by the Russian leader’s pragmatism.
SHEVTSOVA: Putin jumped into the water and risked. He risked a lot. And it seems to me that at that moment he discovered that he didn’t want Russia to be marginalized.
MARKS: Many people say Russia and the US have entered a new era of economic and military cooperation. But Analyst Anatol Lieven, a former Moscow correspondent for The Times of London, warns that the distrust of the Cold War years won’t be easily eradicated.
ANATOL LIEVEN: There are now wildly exaggerated hopes from this new relationship, that Russia will be asked to join NATO next year, that you’re going to have a completely new relationship, that Russia will move towards the European Union, that there will be a new equal partnership between America and Russia.
MARKS: After all, it was only a few years ago that Washington and Moscow were entering another, whole new relationship. Russian president Boris Yeltsin insisted that his country be treated as a great power, including maintaining a sphere of influence in the territory of the former Soviet Union. The West largely went along with him, despite his controversial decisions to suppress separatists in the breakaway region of Chechnya and send tanks onto the streets of Moscow in 1993 to defeat his parliamentary opponents.
[New Year celebrations]
But then, on the last day of the last century, as his countrymen celebrated the dawn of a new age in Red Square, Boris Yeltsin was gone. His sudden resignation caught US policy makers completely off guard—and so did his choice of successor—Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, about whom Washington knew little beyond the fact that he’d spent a lifetime working for the KGB.
[SOUND EX RADIO MOSCOW] This is the Voice of Russia World Service. First the headlines. Acting President Vladimir Putin is sure the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya will be a success….
MARKS: Within weeks, the clock seemed to be turning back. The Voice of Russia sounded more like the Cold War-era Radio Moscow. Order became the order of the day. The President curbed freedom of the press, proposed limiting the number of Russian political parties, railed against US plans to expand NATO and introduce National Missile Defense, and watched his popularity soar among Russians who craved a strong leader who got things done.
[BUSH SWEARING IN] “I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear” “I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear….” “That I will faithfully….”
MARKS: The new President in Washington had campaigned for office criticizing Bill Clinton’s record on Russia—saying his predecessor was too invested in Boris Yeltsin personally and insufficiently focused on the process of reform. But after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in Slovenia in June, President Bush said he’d had a chance to look into the Russia leader’s eyes and “see his soul.” With the benefit of hindsight, the apparent warmth of that first meeting set the stage for the blossoming ties that occurred after September 11th. Analyst Lilia Shevtsova argues that was part of the Russian leader’s plan.
SHEVTSOVA: Putin appears to be rather smart guy. At least so far he is avoiding any kind of trade-offs. But he definitely waits. He anticipates softening of the position not only on Chechnya, but softening of the position on NATO.
MARKS: NATO, a pillar of the West for 50 years, is now expanding eastwards, and since September the 11th, Vladimir Putin has indicated that he’s softening his opposition to the notion of extending NATO’s reach right up to Russia’s borders. Some analysts in Moscow, like Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Polity Foundation, argue that Russian membership of the North Atlantic alliance is the logical next step.
VYACHESLAV NIKONOV: If Russia is proposed membership, I think Putin’s decision would be yes, we do agree. And that would be a strategic decision. That is a decision which changes the world, and these are the kind of decisions which change destinies of countries.
MARKS: But others say there’s still a long way to go before the US and Russia can build a permanent, enduring alliance. Analyst Anatol Lieven says many Russians don’t believe the US has given up its unilateral approach to foreign affairs.
LIEVEN: You have a lot of people here in America who are saying, oh great, Russia is our friend, so that means we can enlarge NATO without consulting Russia, that we can abrogate the ABM treaty—that we can do this, that we can do that and because Russia is our friend, Russia isn’t going to complain. Well, both sides are frankly crazy if they pursue this line, the two of them, then the relationship is going to break down very, very soon.
MARKS: There remain, both in the US and Russia, constituencies that oppose the very notion of cooperation. President Putin has had to battle senior generals who urged him not to sign on to President Bush’s “war on terror.” And some in the Bush administration remain commited to a unilateralist strategy. The meetings between the two leaders in Washington and Crawford, Texas failed to provide any new breakthroughs, and in fact, revealed continuing disagreements over the US missile shield program. So far the US and Russia are cooperating in the short-term fight against terrorism, but it remains to be seen if it will expand into a wider-ranging, long-term alliance.
For the Russia Project, I’m Simon Marks, Washington.
WALTER CRONKITE: Both environmentalists and Western governments sharply criticized Russia when its parliament voted last summer to store and reprocess other country’s spent nuclear fuel. Critics say the plan could cause an environmental disaster and encourage the spread of nuclear weapons. But the Putin administration sees an economic opportunity and claims certain Western governments are just trying to protect their monopoly on a lucrative, but little-known area of nuclear technology.
NENAD SEBEK: The government argues it’s a smart move. Russia wants to become the new member of an exclusive club of nuclear powers that import spent nuclear fuel and reprocess it. It creates new energy and helps eliminate radioactive waste. It would also boost Russia’s national income—income that is badly needed to solve the problems left over after the breakup of the Soviet Union, says Deputy Nuclear Energy Minister Valentin Ivanov.
VALENTIN IVANOV: (Via Translator) We have a huge burden left over from the past. In the centralized economy of the communist era, we were told not to worry about the price of decommissioning power plants and storing or recycling fuel. We were told that when the time comes, the money will be there. And then, in 1991, everything fell apart and the line we’re hearing now is, sorry guys, there is no money. So what else can we do but earn it in one way or another!
SEBEK: The Vladimir Putin administration says it can raise many billions of dollars by allowing other countries to export their nuclear waste and store it in Russia for 35 years. Russia would then reprocess it into fuel for nuclear power plants. Britain and France make money this way. Why not Russia, he asks? But exactly how safe would such storage and reprocessing be?
[Sounds of factory]
Just 30 miles east of Moscow, lies the Electromash, one of three largest producers of raw nuclear fuel in the world. It exports nuclear fuel to 12 countries. It was here that the fuel for the first Soviet atomic and thermonuclear bomb was produced. The enormous factory employs 11,000 people.
Even though it’s a producer of fresh nuclear fuel, Electromash stands to benefit from the new law to process spent fuel, says Deputy Technical Director Nikolay Balagurov.
NIKOLAY BALAGUROV: (Via Translator) When we offer our nuclear fuel for sale, and can promise to take it back for recycling once it’s spent, that makes our offer much more attractive to foreign buyers. Therefore, the new laws are opening up very good business prospects for us.
[Sounds of factory]
SEBEK: If it were not for the specific protective clothing, it would look as if the technicians here are churning out a new toy. But the small, dull silver colored pellets going into long slim tubes are actually made of enriched uranium. It’s the first stage of creating nuclear fuel for power plants—the form of fuel that Electomash Director General Genady Potoskaev says is actually environmentally cleaner than other forms of energy production.
[Sounds of factory]
Potoskaev proudly points out the window to his factory, which is surrounded by lush greenery and even boasts chirping birds.
But the chirping birds just happen to be ravens—known not just in Russia as forebearers of bad news.
SEBEK: And in the office of Russia Greenpeace, Ivan Blokhov believes all this is very bad news indeed.
IVAN BLOKHOV: There are no technologies in the world—not only in Russia—which can safely reprocess spent nuclear fuel. And you can see the examples of British and French reprocessing plants where they are discharging into the ocean and extremely polluting the environment.
SEBEK: Pretty much like here in Russia.
BLOKHOV: You already have an example of the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in Chelyabinsk where they still continue to discharge low and middle level waste into open basins. And there are no environmental controls, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.
SEBEK: What is more, says Blokhov, there are no guarantees that the future, planned reprocessing plants would be any better than the current ones.
BLOKHOV: In Russia the technology which is being proposed now by the nuclear ministry was developed in ’84. And since that time, there have been no changes to the proposed technology.
SEBEK: But Deputy Nuclear Energy Minister Valentin Ivanov says by the time the actual reprocessing begins in three decades, technology will be far more sophisticated.
VALENTIN IVANOV: For 25, 30, maybe 35 years the spent fuel will simply be stored, under strict, even international supervision. In the meantime, there will be a new generation of nuclear reactors and fresh technology that will make the process of regeneration even more efficient.
[Mikhail Gorbachev informing country about disaster at Chernobyl]
SEBEK: It was a somber looking Mikhail Gorbachev who informed his country about the disaster that struck at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the spring of 1986. The catastrophe has left a deep scar on the national psyche.
[Band—Syabry—singing about Chernobyl]
SEBEK: “That Chernobyl night I remember like a nightmare…” says this song by the band Syabry. “I cannot pick up berries and mushrooms like I did before. What will I leave to my grandson, what can I tell my son…”
[Band—Syabry—singing about Chernobyl]
SEBEK: But Chernobyl is just the most famous disaster says Alexei Yablokov, the head of Russia’s Independent Centre for Ecological Policy. He should know, he was former President Yeltsin’s environmental advisor. The nuclear bomb tests in Semipalatinsk were conducted when the winds were blowing towards the Soviet Union, so that particles—which could give away scientific data—would not reach China or the “American imperialists.” Plus, Yablokov says the three largest factories for producing plutonium regularly leak massive amounts of radiation.
ALEXEI YABLOKOV: (Via Translator) In each one of these plants around one billion curies were released. Can you imagine that? For comparison, the Chernobyl disaster released about 50 million curies— each one of these plants released 20 times that much!
SEBEK: The past experiences, says Yablokov, give him no confidence whatsoever that the import, then some 35 years of storage, and then the reprocessing of the spent nuclear fuel, will be safe. But it’s another aspect of the new law that worries Yablokov just as much.
YABLOKOV: Practically, this law is killing off the agreement on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Half a century ago, nuclear power stations were a byproduct of research into nuclear weapons. Today, nuclear weapons are a byproduct of having nuclear plants. Any country that has a nuclear power plant, can build a bomb. It’s no secret that Iran, for example, wants nuclear weapons and Russia is building a nuclear power station in Iran!
SEBEK: Yablokov says he believes the whole project of importing and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was introduced so that Russia could increase the export of its nuclear technology. That, he says, could dramatically increase the number of countries which would have nuclear weapons twenty years from now. And this is a prospect that DOES worry the United States. But strapped for cash, the Kremlin seems determined to see this project through… The expected earnings in the next ten years add up to some 20 billion dollars. Despite the domestic and international criticism, negotiations are going on now that could result in the first shipments reaching Russia in less then two years.
For the Russia Project, I’m Nenad Sebek, Moscow.
WALTER CRONKITE: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, Roy Medvedev [med-vay’-dev]. These and other Soviet dissidents became well-known in the West for speaking out against Soviet repression. Many Americans thought the dissidents represented a significant movement for freedom and democracy inside the Soviet Union. But today virtually none hold positions of political influence. Russia Project producer Reese Erlich tracked down some of the old Soviet dissidents to find out why.
REESE ERLICH: In 1975 17-year-old Alexander Tarasov joined a small Marxist organization that thought the Soviet Union wasn’t socialist enough. He was arrested, and without a trial, thrown into a mental institution under the control of the KGB.
ALEXANDER TARASOV: (Via Translator) I was told that my views alone are proof of the fact that I am mentally disabled.
ERLICH: He was given electroshock ten times. Doctors also induced insulin comas.
TARASOV: A person is injected with insulin and then he gets into a coma and is very close to death. At the right time he is injected with glucose to save his life.
[Sound of prison door opening]
ERLICH: Tarasov was released after a year and today lives in Moscow. He was one of thousands of Soviet political and religious dissidents who faced arbitrary arrests, brutal prison conditions, and sometimes torture in the post-Stalin era. Many in the West thought dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, and Natan Sharansky were leaders of a significant movement for democracy.
[Natan Sharansky rally—”I would now like to introduce Natan Sharansky” Shouts of “Yeah!”]
ERLICH: If the dissidents really had led a major movement, one would expect former dissidents to hold political office in the new Russia, or at least to exercise political influence—they don’t.
Today the former dissidents are largely ignored by politicians and the public alike. And that was true even back in Soviet times, according to well-known dissident Larisa Bogaraz.
LARISA BOGARAZ: (Via Translator) The Soviet authorities would reproach us that the dissidents weren’t representing anyone. We wanted the situation to be just like that. Each dissident could represent himself.
ERLICH: Boris Kagarlitsky spent 13 months in prison during the Brezhnev years. He says Western countries, and the US in particular, knew that the dissidents had little popular base of support, but used their cases for political purposes.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: They saw the dissident movement as a temendous propagandistic asset in Cold War discussions, especially outside the Soviet Union. The irony is that, I think they were not so much interested in dissidents as the dissident voices inside the Soviet Union because they didn’t—at that moment, at that stage—they didn’t consider the dissident movement as a force capable of changing things within the Soviet Union. They actually wanted these voices to be heard around the world as a kind of ideological and psychological deterrent against the spread of communism.
[Music from Soviet period]
ERLICH: Some dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were anticommunists. Some, such as Sakharov, were advocates of Western-style political systems, and others, such as Tarasov, were Marxists. But they all faced harsh government repression. Larisa Bogaraz says some dissidents asked the Western press and Western government radio networks to publicize their cases.
[Radio Liberty station ID]
BOGARAZ: Western radio stations like Voice of America and Radio Liberty had a huge effect on our society. Their support was crucial for the dissidents in Russia.
ERLICH: Kagarlitsky says the increased contact with Western media and governments impacted the thinking of some dissidents.
KAGARLITSKY: So, I think the American political apparatus tried to influence these people politically. It was very much about manipulating people. For example, if we take the late academician Sakharov; he started as democratic socialist. And then, the longer he dealt with their international apparatus, the more he was shifting to the right politically, including saying the Americans did it right bombing Vietnam, and so on, and so on.
ERLICH: During 1960s and 1970s dissidents fought a hard, if lonely, battle for political rights. Then in the late 1980s, under Gorbachev’s administration, a few gained political prominence.
Shortly after Boris Yeltsin took power in 1991, however, the former dissidents fell out of favor. The new rulers didn’t want to be criticized for human rights abuses. And the dissidents failed to attract mass support because they offered no practical solutions for the problems in the new Russia. Historian and famous dissident Roy Medveyev [med-vay’-dev] explains.
ROY MEDVEYEV: (Via Translator) They were dissenting against the authorities from a moral point of view. They never developed a goal to be political leaders. That’s why there are few dissidents who are political leaders.
ERLICH: Many of the former dissidents say that human rights violations continued under Presidents Yeltsin and Putin, although not on the scale of the old Soviet government. Ludmila Alexeeva chairs the Moscow-Helsinki human rights group.
LUDMILA ALEXEEVA: It’s a mass phenomenon in all parts of our country. But what is the most painful is our trials. Of course, we have no independent judicial system.
ERLICH: Boris Kagarlitsky, who now leads a small, social democratic party, agrees that human rights violations still abound in the new Russia.
KAGARLITSKY: Russia is a kind of democracy guided through electoral fraud. We are free to speak, we are not free to choose. Those who are in power stay in power, no matter what.
ERLICH: Today’s dissidents find themselves in a similar political dilemma as during Soviet times. They don’t face long jail sentences. But their protests against human rights violations are ignored by the authorities. The difference, this time, is that they are largely ignored by the West as well.
For the Russia Project, I’m Reese Erlich, Moscow.
WALTER CRONKITE: Following the devastation of World War II, the Soviets built one of the largest militaries in history with three million troops, naval and air bases circling the globe, and a nuclear arsenal with terrifying capacity. Now, ten years after the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian armed forces are a mere shadow of their past glory. Correspondent Keith Porter reports from Moscow.
[Announcer: Russians drive for Berlin! (sound of artillery fire)]
[“Thousands of Russian tanks crush Nazi resistence and German dead litter the road.”]
DIMITRY GRIGORIEVICH: (Via Translator) We went to Romania, then Poland, Germany, then Czechoslovakia—we deployed there quickly because they needed help. We were victorious, thanks to our love of the motherland.
KEITH PORTER: Dimitry Grigorievich wears a chest full of shiny, red and gold medals honoring his service in World War II. He’s describing his role in the Soviet Army’s liberation of countries occupied by the Nazis at the end of the war. Here at Moscow’s Victory Park, Grigorievich says he’s worried about today’s Russian military.
GRIGORIEVICH: Today there’s no army, there’s nothing. When you compare the army today with what was before—you can’t even do it. There was glory back then. These days, there’s none.
PORTER: His comrade in arms, Alexey Vassilievich, agrees.
ALEXEY VASSELIYVICH: (Via Translator) Those soldiers were real soldiers, real officers. They saved Russia from the German fascists—and they held the nation together—that was our generation. But this generation gives up too easily.
PORTER: Pavel Felgenhauer, independent defense analyst in Russia, says the veterans have reason to worry about today’s Russian military.
PAVEL FELGENHAUER: (Via Translator) Morale is very low and this is not only my opinion. That’s what many high-ranking Russian generals tell me; that the morale of the Russian military is appalling. And morale continues to slide, and I know that in the top of the Russian military there is a lot of anxiety about what’s happening right now with the Russian armed forces.
PORTER: This anxiety reaches beyond Russia’s borders. A weak, chaotic, disorganized Russian military could pose an internal threat to democracy and could be a destabilizing force internationally according to Celeste Wallender of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
CELESTE WALLENDER: It is absolutely the case that a weak Russian military in these terms is not in American national security interests. Russia is a big place and it needs to feel secure. A corrupt, underpaid, underfed Russian military is susceptible to selling not only Kalishnikovs to Chechen rebels, but nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to the highest bidder.
PORTER: The Russian armed forces are now four times smaller than the Soviet armed forces ten years ago. And defense spending has dropped 95%. The decline of the Russian military began when former president Boris Yeltsin deliberately cut the military budget and weakened the armed forces because he feared their political power. Now Russia is paying the price. The headlines are full of stories about sinking ships and submarines, crashing military planes, and deserting soldiers.
[Heavy altillery and Russian men shouting: “ammo is ready!”]
PORTER: Thousands of Russian troops have been killed in Chechnya. And with every new story of horrendous human rights violations and deep corruption, morale plummets even lower. So does the military’s public image. World War II vet Dimitry Grigorievich reacts with anger to the stories of Russian troops selling weapons to the very rebels they are fighting in Chechnya.
GRIGORIEVICH: (Via Translator) These people are not soldiers nor officers; they’re traitors. With them you can do little but line them up against a wall and pull the trigger. A bastard in life is a bastard in the army too.
PORTER: Alexandr Golts covered the Russian military for ITOGI (ee-tow-ghi), the premier Russian newsmagazine forced out of business in the Spring of 2001. He says Russian soldiers at the lowest end of the pay scale make the equivalent of one US dollar a month. Officers do a little better but still don’t make anything near a living wage. Given this, Golts says the path to military corruption is sometimes paved with good intentions.
[Sounds of Army marching]
ALEXANDER GOLTS: (Golts Farm) I can tell you a usual story of how an officer became corrupted. He will use the single thing this commander can use, the slave labor of soldiers. So he uses it. He sends his soldiers to nearest brick factory or to the nearest farm, and he receives money to feed them. But in eyes of any prosecutor it is a crime. It is the normal way to corruption.
PORTER: Russian President Vladimir Putin is well aware of the morale and corruption problems in the Russian military, and he has proposed a number of steps to solve the problems. His chief aim is to make the Russian military even smaller. The goal is simple. Slash the number of troops without cutting the budget. In theory this leaves more money per soldier. But Alexander Golts says getting rid of soldiers isn’t enough.
GOLTS: This logic doesn’t work when we speak about Russian armed forces. From the early 90s there were at least three total—very big—reductions in Russian armed forces. But each time we received a smaller copy, but absolutely inefficient copy of the Soviet Army.
PORTER: Golts says the answer is to eliminate the draft and create a professional military—a task which will demand lots of money. But how can Russia’s leaders justify more defense spending at a time when so much money is also needed for housing, agriculture, medical care, and other priorities? One age-old method for getting more military resources is to convince the public that the world is becoming more dangerous. Making that argument became much easier following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, according to Celeste Wallender.
WALLENDAR: Putin has been arguing that there is an opportunity now for Russia to be able to be in cooperation with the West and the United States, to effectively address the problems of terrorism that Russia has been facing through the 1990’s, and that may ring more true to the Russian public.
[Orchestra & chorus]
PORTER: Of course some Russians, like the veterans back at Victory Park, don’t need to be convinced that Russia should do whatever it takes to build a strong military.
VASSELIYVICH: (Via Translator) President Putin should take power in his hands and return everything back to the way it was—then all these generals that whine about the army should be fired.
PORTER: In the end, all agree that morale is low and corruption is high in the Russian military. The needed reforms carry a high price tag, but the new global environment may make it easier for President Putin to find the money. Yet, one problem remains. Reforming Russia’s military may do nothing to stop their biggest enemy. Russian State Duma member Sergei Rogov says the biggest threat to Russia, is Russia.
SERGEI ROGOV: The enemy is us. The enemy is our inability to use the enormous human and natural resources of Russia to make life here decent and to make Russia a respectable member of the international community.
PORTER: Fixing Russia’s military is a formidable, but feasible task. Fixing Russia, on the other hand, will be much more difficult. For the Russia Project, I’m Keith Porter, Moscow.
WALTER CRONKITE: Is Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, cracking down on the media? Are Russian reporters truly independent these days? Those are a few of the questions I asked Vladimir Pozner. Pozner became well known to Americans from his appearances on Nightline in the 1980s and when he co-hosted a CNBC Current Affairs program with Phil Donahue in the 1990s. Today, Pozner hosts Russia’s most popular news interview program. Here are some excerpts from the Cronkite/Pozner conversation.
CRONKITE: Vladimir, of the so-called journalists who learned their trade under Stalin and the dictatorship as your country turned more and more toward democracy, were they in any way prepared to be good reporters, good journalists in a democratic society?
VLADIMIR POZNER: You know, you ask, Walter, a very interesting and complicated question. First of all, when Gorbachev came to power and the policy of glasnost, openness began to be practiced. The heroes, if you will, of the change, were the journalists. The very same journalists who had been trained in a totalitarian society and yet they were the ones who came riding out like, you know, knights in white armor fighting for democracy, for openness, for freedom of the press and all of that. And it was rather amazing to see how these people suddenly turned around. They became very partisan in what they did. They saw themselves not so much as journalists, but as people who took sides. As people who espoused certain causes. Almost, in some cases, like Messiahs if you will, who were there to quote-unquote “save the nation.” So that, instead of getting the news period or getting two sides of a story, what you’d be getting would be the news as seen by so-and-so and you’d only be getting one side of the story. And that is still, to a very great degree, the situation here today.
CRONKITE: In your opinion, did the takeover of Vladimir Gusinski’s NTV, the country’s largest private television station, did that represent an attack on freedom of the press?
POZNER: The whole NTV story is basically one of personal enmity. Almost a vendetta between then Prime Minister Putin and the owner of NTV and of the whole MediaMOST as it was called, holding Mr. Gusinski. The two of them had two very serious falling-outs. The reason was not because of what NTV was showing or saying, the reason was because of a personal relationship between these two men. However, what happened was seen as a kind of signal. It was seen as the possibility of cracking down on local independent television and that has happened.
CRONKITE: Vladimir, it’s a very discouraging report that you give us. Our press isn’t perfect in this country by far but, quite clearly, as far as freedom of speech in the press goes, I do think that the United States is probably paramount in the world. And I’d like to feel that that was going to be true in a democratic Russia as well.
POZNER: What you say about the American media may be true but I worked for six years in the United States doing television with Phil Donahue. We did a show on CNBC that was called Pozner and Donahue. And I remember once, this was a few years back, I think maybe ’94, when there was a lot of Japan bashing going on in the United States because Japan was not allowing American cars to be sold in Japan. And so, there was a lot of this. And we on our show with Phil basically one day said look, instead of going after the Japanese, the United States should make better cars. Japanese have better cars than the United States. Now, if the United States starts producing better cars, cheaper cars, more reliable cars, then, I think the Japanese will start buying them. Well it so happened that on our show we had advertising by General Motors. They pulled their advertising because of our show. We were called up to the top management and told in no uncertain words that we should never again allow ourselves to criticize in a way that would scare off our advertisers. Now let’s talk about freedom of the press, well, that’s that. So, I agree with you that there is much more freedom of the press in the United States than there is in Russia, clearly that’s the case. But I wouldn’t idealize it at all. I want to make that point. And I do believe that in Russia, down the road it will happen. But it didn’t happen overnight in the United States. You look at the US press back in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century and you see that it was a very different kind of media and I think that down the road in Russia, it will also become what you would easily call an independent free media. But that’s going to take a couple of generations, because it calls for a change in the mind set.
CRONKITE: Well, I’m delighted if you feel a couple of generations would do it. Then there is hope.
WALTER CRONKITE: For many years the Soviet Union was famous for its world-class ballet houses, opera companies, and symphony orchestras. The collapse of the USSR meant a severe decline in Russia’s high art, and the rise of imported, Western pop culture. It’s impacted films, music, and television. Some Russian artists resist the trend, while others are adapting Western styles to Russian sensibilities. Correspondent Anya Ardayeva [are-dah-yay’-va ] files this story from Moscow.
[“Yesterday” sung by Russian singer]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: In the old days of the Soviet Union it was as certain as red flags, statues of Lenin, and vodka toasts. You could travel across a dozen time zones from the Baltic to the Pacific, and in every state run hotel, dinner guests would be listening to a Russian crooner singing “Yesterday.”
If, in the past, Russians wallowed in Western simplicity, today they hear discord and complexity such as Detsl.
[Detsl rapping in English]
ARDAYEVA: Detsl rapidly shot to fame after his first song, called “Tears,” won the hearts of teenagers nationwide. The song was about love, problems in school, and fights with parents. But while he’s adapted an American musical genre to Russia, Detsl says his personal goal isn’t simply to copy Americans. He wants to develop rap that taps the Russian soul.
DETSL: I want to be a Russian rapper, you know, and I don’t want to be like some kind of rapper that came out of nowhere. I have a history in Russia. It’s not American hip-hop. It’s Russian hip-hop, in Russian language, about Russian problems.
[Detsl raps in Russian]
ARDAYEVA: Detsl isn’t alone in trying to identify and develop a new Russian musical sound. But he is facing intense competition from those content simply to import Western musical ideas and cash-in on them.
ARDAYEVA: This is the sound of “Litsei”—it means “College.” And if it reminds you of the “Spice Girls,” there’s a good reason for that. “Litsei” is the latest in a long string of Russian “Girl Bands.” In some cases they are direct copies of their Western counterparts, inspired by managers who boast a long term commitment to short-term commercialism. “Litsei” is the creation of producer Alexei Makarevich.
ALEXEI MAKAREVICH: (Via Translator) This industry has become more organized now. If in the early 90s the old art died and nothing new was born, today there are dozens of FM radio stations which broadcast hundreds of new songs. Radio stations are very commercial, and the question of real art isn’t that important anymore.
ARDAYEVA: Russian TV also features a growing number of programs directly inspired by the West.
[“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” music]
ARDAYEVA: If the music sounds familiar that’s because it’s the theme tune from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Only here, the prize is a million rubles. That’s roughly thirty-thousand US dollars—still a princely sum to most Russians.
[Audio of host asking questions]
ARDAYEVA: “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” first appeared in Russia two years ago. Unlike its US counterpart, it’s won fans among the intelligentsia because its questions are much tougher than those posed by Regis Philbin. Russia’s Regis is Maxim Galkin, a former comedy actor. This is the first TV quiz show he’s ever hosted.
MAXIM GALKIN: (Via Translator) The idea of the show is really simple. And it’s popular because puzzles are popular, they’re published in every newspaper. Every reader and every viewer always wants to compare his level of knowledge with other peoples. So when the viewer sits in front of his TV set, he compares himself with the contestants, sees if he knows more than they do.
ARDAYEVA: These days, Russian TV listings would look very familiar to most Americans. A Jay Leno look-alike for a time battled a David Letterman look-alike on an opposing network. “Wheel of Fortune” is hosted by a team bearing a remarkable resemblance to Pat Sajak and Vanna White. But as with Russian hip-hop, some shows are already trying to adapt the Western model for a local audience.
[“On My Own” show open]
ARDAYEVA: “Ya Sama” means “On My Own.” At first it appears to be a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Ruth. The show gives Russian women a chance to publicly raise once forbidden sexual issues. Program director Irina Semyonova says the show is a ratings hit, in part because of its shock value.
IRINA SEMYONOVA: (Via Translator) Neither in the Soviet Union, nor in the early days of Russia was there a program of this kind. Because no one ever discussed their personal life. There was even a slogan: “The communal is more important than the personal.” Everything relating to the best worker of the Communist Party was permitted, but people’s private life was not. There was no sex in the Soviet Union, and a party member couldn’t get divorced without facing career problems. It looked as though personal life simply didn’t exist. Women had to solve their problems by talking to their mothers or friends. The idea of this program was simply revolutionary.
[Sound from “On My Own” discussion]
ARDAYEVA: The programs’ guests—mostly female—discuss the problems they’re facing at work or at home. The audience of men and women then discuss the stories they’ve heard. And while it has the appearance of an American-style talk show, Irina Semyonova says she’s covering some uniquely Russian ground.
SEMYONOVA: We made people think about things. Russia is a very patriarchal country, especially in the villages where people still say “If a husband beats his wife it means he loves her,” or “The kid needs a father even if it’s a bad father.” I think we made people question these ideas a bit.
ARDAYEVA: The emergence of broadcasts like “Ya Sama” and artists like the rapper “Detsl” suggest that there’s a limit to how long Russian popular culture will be dominated by Western imports. While American movies still play to crowded theaters here, and Hollywood provides the inspiration for many Russian gossip columns, there is still a place for pop artists who are authentically Russian, and who owe nothing to the West.
[Russian artist Kirkorov singing]
ARDAYEVA: For over a decade, Philip Kirkorov has been one of Russia’s most popular and flamboyant performers—a Liberace, Michael Jackson, and Prince all rolled into one. Kirkorov’s fans are middle-aged and older Russians, and he says the main secret of his success is that his songs touch the Russian soul.
PHILIP KIRKOROV: In all my songs I want to project all my soul and my heart. All my songs are about love. And people feel it. And then maybe, that’s why people like me. Now I feel in Russia very good. I feel like a king.
[Russian artist KIRKOROV singing]
ARDAYEVA: “The king” never sang “Yesterday” all those years ago, but his songs reflect the romance and simplicity of a time gone by. Philip Kirkorov is a showman who knows his audience, knows what makes Russians grow misty-eyed over dinner. And even some of his younger competitors in the music industry, like the lead singer of the girl-group “Litsei,” Nastya Makarevich, acknowledge that the ways of the West may not be here to stay.
NASTYA MAKAREVICH: (Via Translator) Everything that is happening now has come from the West. I don’t think it will work here. It might stay, but only for a short period of time. Here people like tear-jerking songs, which they can sing while sitting together at the table.
[Singer singing “Yesterday”]
ARDAYEVA: Just as today you don’t see Russian couples canoodling over “Yesterday,” tomorrow you might not see Russian teens bopping to carbon copies of Britney Spears or The Backstreet Boys. Russian popular culture is coming into its own. Artists are slowly finding inspiration at home and realizing that entertainment devised in the West doesn’t always translate into Russian.
For the Russia Project, I’m Anya Ardayeva, Moscow.