Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millennium

Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millennium

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Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millennium by Yevgeny Primakov

A prominent Russian politician who served as prime minister, foreign minister, and head of foreign intelligence during the 1990s, Yevgeny Primakov has been part of all vital decisions on Russian domestic and foreign policy for the past two decades. His memoir is both an insider’s account of post-perestroika Russian politics and a statement from a representative of the enlightened Russian establishment on their nation’s relationship with America and the world.

Primakov is a specialist in the Middle East, and his personal involvement in the problems of that region make his commentary particularly valuable as he articulates Russia’s view of the conflicts there and its stance toward Iraq, Israel, and Palestine. Primakov also offers pertinent opinions on the Gulf War, NATO enlargement, spying, and other aspects of contemporary international relations, and he gives personal assessments of a wide variety of major players, from Saddam Hussein and Yassir Arafat to Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton.

Providing behind-the-scenes information about government shake-ups in Moscow, the history of speculative privatizations, the formation of the new political and economic oligarchy, and much more, this book will be an invaluable aid to political analysts, historians, and anyone interested in Russia’s recent past and future plans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300097924
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/04/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Yevgeny Primakov is currently president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Russian Federation.

Read an Excerpt

Russian Crossroads



Copyright © 2004 Yevgeny Primakov
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-09792-4

Chapter One

From Yeltsin to Putin


On December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation as president of Russia and named Vladimir Putin as his preferred successor.

The New Year's Eve announcement caught most of us by surprise; certainly it surprised me. Not that Russians in general were unaware of the president's inability to govern: that had been clear since 1996. And not that anyone could seriously believe that Yeltsin's closest allies were withdrawing their support from him, even less that they had come to realize they needed to relinquish their hold on power. Everybody was well aware of Yeltsin's insatiable thirst for power. His lack of concern for his physical condition, weakened by illness and bad habits, had always stood in sharp contrast to his urge to manage, to rule, and to hire and fire top government officials with a stroke of the pen. Yeltsin's self-indulgence was one of the man's primary characteristics; that had been clear long before he became seriously ill. It is unlikely that Yeltsin's inner circle, the so-called Family, realized the hopelessness of his staying in power.

So what was it that encouraged those whoarranged Yeltsin's resignation to prompt that surprising move on New Year's Eve? Yeltsin's memoirs, ghost-written by members of that inner circle, stressed that the president himself had conceived the plan in secret and had let nobody know about his intentions for fear of a premature leak. It is possible that the authors of Yeltsin's resignation announcement diverted his attention from the heart of the matter by playing a game of hide-and-seek, fearing Yeltsin might back down at the last moment. The suddenness of the announcement suited the Family, but not because they feared that some forces of any social significance would try to preserve Yeltsin's presidency. The fact that the president's approval rating had fallen close to zero made that scenario out of the question. There were other reasons for the rush.

It was the question of continuity of power that lay behind the New Year's Eve bombshell. Under the current constitution, if Yeltsin resigned before the end of his term, new presidential elections were to be held within three months. To those who hoped to retain their power, it must have seemed too risky to wait until the end of Yeltsin's term. At the same time, moving the elections up gave them an opportunity to build on the success they had underhandedly achieved in the December parliamentary elections, only a few weeks before Yeltsin's resignation. They had managed then to consolidate the administration's leverage in the State Duma, principally by using the so-called administrative factor: they were able to apply pressure to the mass media and to political figures in the constituent states of the Federation to support their candidates, and they applied it heavily.

There was no doubt that the architects of Yeltsin's early resignation wanted to make sure that his successor did not deviate from the course pursued by Yeltsin-that he would continue the policies that had already resulted in their fabulous enrichment and in their increasing influence on state policy, including the appointment of top executives. And of course the successor was expected to ensure reliable security for Yeltsin and the Family, not only his relatives but his cronies as well. Make no mistake: his successor was nominated by a specific group of people with clear-cut objectives.

Who is Vladimir Putin? What role was he to play, the man who occupies the nation's top position not only under the Constitution but also in Russian political reality? Why was he chosen as Yeltsin's successor? These questions overshadowed the emotions aroused by Boris Yeltsin's departure. There was no doubt that by making Putin the country's president the Family intended to co-opt the chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB, successor to the KGB), who was one of the most well informed people in the country. And surely no one would be better able to guarantee the Family's security.

Many people, I among them, were looking for an answer to another question, one that was perhaps even more important for Russia and the rest of the world: whether Putin, if indeed he were elected, would be guided by the same motives that led to his choice as Yeltsin's successor. After all, a president who has achieved his office by popular vote is then free either to follow or to disregard the blueprint provided him when he was nominated.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has held several state and municipal posts, including relatively minor positions in foreign intelligence. As for me, during my tenure as director of the Foreign Intelligence Service I never met him or heard a thing about him. Before his appointment as prime minister (which took many people by surprise), a couple of months before his nomination as Yeltsin's successor, Putin worked in the office of the mayor of St. Petersburg for several years, in the Kremlin administration, and then as director of the Federal Security Service. This career hardly qualified him as a politician.

At least, that was my opinion, and I was not alone. But when we were members of the same cabinet-I was first foreign minister and then prime minister and Putin was FSB director-I found him to be a smart and determined man who kept his word. My conversations with him allowed me to sketch Putin's ideological and political profile. His patriotism was not tainted by chauvinism, he avoided swaying either left or right, and his political sympathies and antipathies were determined by Russia's national interests, as he saw them, naturally. Undoubtedly, that was very encouraging.

I like Putin as an individual. I was very pleased when, after my removal from the position of prime minister, he called me and offered to arrange a meeting for me with the FSB board. When I replied that I would be pleased to go to FSB headquarters, he said no, no, the board members would be pleased to visit me. Indeed, this informal meeting, during which they spoke warmly of me, took place at my dacha. This was a serious matter, and I very much doubt that Putin had cleared his and especially the board's visit to my dacha with anyone.

When he was appointed prime minister, Putin came to help me celebrate my seventieth birthday with a few friends in a rather modest Moscow restaurant. Putin knew I had not invited any of President Yeltsin's closest advisers. (Yeltsin had not yet announced his resignation.) Putin not only attended the party but had some very kind words for me.

All that undoubtedly aroused my sympathy for Putin. I think he appreciated my decision not to run against him in the presidential race. I informed him personally that I would not run. Not that I had any chance of winning; I had none, because strings were pulled by those who controlled the mass media. Besides, Putin was gaining in popularity, especially after he shouldered the responsibility for resolute action against the Chechen terrorists and separatists. But my participation in the presidential race might have necessitated a run-off election. As it was, Putin won in the first round.

In short, we have developed stable and good relations, which enabled me to meet with Putin and speak to him on the phone after he was elected president. Naturally, I wanted to know what course he intended to pursue. I have to admit that the dialogue was not always lively. I probably did most of the talking, especially at the beginning, but his remarks, sparse though they were, led me to conclude that Putin desired changes and undoubtedly realized the necessity for them.

The main issue, however, remained: could Putin distance himself from those who had originally promoted him? I rejected media speculations about Putin's bondage to the "oligarchs." I have no doubt Putin is an honest and decent man. But would his very decency make him keep promises he may have made to the people who nominated him? As far as I can tell, with the passage of time those concerns have lost their relevance.

In typical fashion, the Russian media speculated as to whether Putin would be relying on his old St. Petersburg colleagues or the former KGB community. Analysis of Putin's appointments suggested he favored both groups. A joke popular at the time is about a passenger on an overcrowded bus who asks the man pressing against him, "Excuse me, are you from Petersburg?" The man says no. "Are you from the FSB, then?" When the man again says no, the passenger barks at him, "Get off my foot, you bastard!"

My own interpretation of Putin's appointments is that the new president, not having a team of his own and intending from the beginning to push the Family aside gradually, decided to rely on people he knew personally. In my opinion, however, the predominance of St. Petersburg politicians and intelligence officers among his new appointees is a temporary expedient. In any case, nobody, not even his opponents, dared to use his meetings with Yeltsin on national holidays to accuse him of continuing to rely on the Family.


My attitude toward Putin began to take firmer shape when I analyzed his practical course, which differed markedly from that of his predecessor. First, he strengthened the executive power from top to bottom. Quite obviously, this idea took strong hold of the new president's mind because in his earlier official positions he had become convinced that the authoritarian rule of many governors and leaders of the national republics that make up the Russian Federation posed a real threat to Russia's territorial integrity. Events in Chechnya must have added fuel to the fire. As prime minister Putin was closely associated with a determined struggle in 1999 against militant Chechen separatists, who by that time had spread the "Chechen experience" over Dagestan and Ingushetia and had launched terrorist attacks on Russian territory.

The means to build the vertical line of executive power to bind together all of Russia's territorial units into a single federal state were open to debate. But it was evident that Putin was not just thinking about this issue but taking steps to resolve it by limiting the governors' field of action, so that they would no longer be so free to engage in unconstitutional and illegitimate activities. It was no secret to most people that the objective of the law "On the Reform of the Federation Council," introduced by Putin in the Duma and passed with few amendments, was to replace the governors with representatives in the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament. Thus the governors lost the immunity that had been guaranteed them earlier.

Although this course of action took Putin far from the path followed by Yeltsin, by itself it could hardly be considered a direct threat to the Family's interests and status. But another of Putin's moves did directly affect its immediate interests. Realizing the importance of the mass media, especially the electronic media, Putin took steps to limit the influence of the oligarchs, who under Yeltsin had managed to establish control over many television channels and newspapers.

Readers in the West probably have very incomplete understanding of the situation in Russia at that time. For instance, a person who owned only a negligible number of shares in a television station, newspaper, or magazine but had a great deal of money would pay large sums to the managers, editors, and reporters and would then be in a position to call them on his cell phone and tell them what to say during a talk show or what to write in a story; he decided who would be smeared and who promoted. This practice was common under Yeltsin. Family members were involved in it. Putin came out openly against it.

He was not deterred by the campaign in defense of "freedom of the press" and against "dictator Putin" launched by the oligarchs when they found themselves losing their stranglehold on the mass media. This campaign, which unfortunately found support in the West, was deliberately misleading; freedom of the press was never under attack in Russia. One has only to consider the program content of channel NTV since it ceased to belong to Vladimir Gusinsky. It is clear that NTV's programs contain even more direct and indirect criticism of the Russian leadership now than they did when Gusinsky was calling the shots.

One can argue about the legal nicety of the methods used to cleanse the electronic media of the oligarchs' control, but eliminating freedom of the press was by no means the ultimate goal. Putin was simply determined to free the Russian mass media, especially the electronic media, from their unrestrained pursuit of the oligarchs' private ends, which went against both Russian social tradition and ethics. And unlikely as some people may find it, he wanted Russian broadcasters to follow the best examples of Western television. Putin knew how closely the oligarchs were connected to the Family and how they were using the powerful media machine to manipulate public opinion during the political struggles of the second half of the 1990s.

Putin's views on many of Russia's developmental problems, especially after the economy was freed from tight central control and integrated with the world economy, as well as his views on other issues, emerged during long conversations in Sochi with a group of leading scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the summer of 2000. When I proposed such a meeting to Putin, I urged him to let the suggestion come from him, but in his note to Yury Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Vladimirovich said the idea was mine. His only contribution, he said, was to pick Sochi as the meeting place, because a vacation resort would permit uninterrupted time for frank discussions. Unlike his predecessor-and this is very important-Putin is not eager to take credit for somebody else's ideas, even in the interests of public relations. I had observed this characteristic of Putin as a politician on earlier occasions; in his relations with other people he is a decent man.

Here are some of the ideas that the president either voiced or unconditionally approved: Russia is through with isolationism forever. Not only is it part of the world economy but it feels itself increasingly at home there. But what are the prospects for our country in this respect? It must be admitted that if the tendencies that came to the fore at the end of the twentieth century were to carry over into the next century, the rift between Russia and the economically developed countries could widen. And the point is not to turn Russia into a supplier of natural resources for the West. Inadequate attention to exploration for natural resources and to modernization of extraction processes may sharply reduce Russia's competitiveness in this area very quickly. Without new approaches in economic policy, Russia's industry, with its obsolete framework, both moral and physical, will also fall into hard times.

Putin listened attentively to the scientists who took part in the meeting and fully agreed with their conclusion that Russia's future depended heavily on scientific and technological breakthroughs and on its ability to participate actively in the international project of adopting innovative technologies. Putin's realism and his lack of adventurism were made clear when he agreed that Russia was not yet ready for a breakthrough across the board. Therefore, the scientists outlined seven or eight so-called critical technologies in which Russia could succeed because it had some reserves there, scientific staff (despite a catastrophic brain drain), and the potential for innovation. The president also agreed that this objective could be reached only if the state supervised and financed the appropriate programs.

In the course of the meeting Putin spoke once again of the need for tougher measures against those who broke the law and used their positions for purposes that had nothing in common with the interests of the general population; he also spoke about the need to keep corruption in check. Corruption comes up often in the president's speeches and he is taking practical steps to reduce it.

Putin's comments and statements have outlined his political course, but it must be admitted that many of his proposals have been implemented inefficiently and inconsistently. Apparently one of the main reasons is that the people who surround Putin lack professionalism, even those who sincerely wish to advance the course he has chosen.


Excerpted from Russian Crossroads by YEVGENY PRIMAKOV Copyright © 2004 by Yevgeny Primakov. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 From Yeltsin to Putin....................1
2 Looking Back: Dissidents within the System....................14
3 The War That Might Not Have Been....................42
4 Paradoxes of Perestroika....................72
5 In the Intelligence Service....................86
6 In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs....................122
7 Force or Other Methods....................164
8 Middle East Settlement: Lost Opportunities....................186
9 Chairman of the Government....................203
10 The Family, the President, and I....................279

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