"The Mysteries of Political Strategy" - By Nina Khrushcheva

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"So he [Putin] presented this problem as an international problem. But it wasn’t picked up by the Western press as such, in fact it wasn’t picked up by the State Department as such. It was just immediately responded to as Russia tries to push down the independent movement," and so forth. And I have to say that I myself, definitely not a defender of either Putin or military actions, I was somewhat surprised that more research and more careful analysis were not done [by the Western press] and that the West didn’t look more into the real causes of the war. Chechens themselves, in fact, declared that what they’re fighting for is not so much independence from Russia, but the reason for independence from Russia is actually independence from the Western ways Russia chose to follow, which in some ways is a frightening development, because what they were claiming is that Islamic fundamentalism is the direction and road that Chechnya is going to take.


...NATO for him is somewhat the enemy, it’s the alliance that excluded Russians...

Speech before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on January 19, 2000:

By Nina Khrushcheva
Granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev
Director of Communications and Special Projects, East-West Institute

"The Mysteries of Political Strategy"

Thank you very much. It’s a great privilege for me to be here. I love Southern California, particularly Los Angeles. A few years ago I visited here but I’m very, very happy to come back. I hope you won’t be disappointed. I’m not going to speak about my grandfather much, but I will be very happy to answer all questions....

I would actually like to talk about Russia, because Russia is an important country and we want to know what is going to happen next. This is going to be the topic of my discussion today, but the past is going to be present in it, and after that then I will answer all questions.

On a personal note, I managed to visit Disneyland about three years ago. I have to say that I’m very sorry for grandfather, that he didn’t have such a great opportunity to visit this very, very magical place.

The title of my presentation is "The Mysteries of Political Strategy," because from my point of view the strategy of mystery is going to define Russian politics from now on until the unforeseeable future. I will try to explain what I mean.

First of all, let me start with a little bit of positive perspective about President Boris Yeltsin, who resigned in 1999, the last day of the last century. From my point of view, he had really two brilliant moments in his political career. The first one was when he stood on the tank in 1991, showing Russia--or promising to show Russia--the brightest future....the second was his decision to resign. We had eight or nine years in between, with the Chechan War, fighting with parliament, and other unpleasant political decisions made by President Yeltsin. But I want to give him credit for one thing, and this credit is for allowing Russian political power to be diverse.

As you probably followed, in at least some of Russian politics of the last 50, 40, 30, 20 years, and Russian history, Soviet history...when the next president of Russia came to power he would immediately cancel [the decisions of] the previous one. When Stalin came to power he [denounced] what Lenin was trying to accomplish with the Soviet Union. When Khrushchev came to power he immediately denounced Stalin as the worst criminal, and went his own direction. When Beria came to power, the same thing happened. So the whole history of the 20th century Russian Soviet politics would be one extreme or another extreme, as much as extremes could happen in Soviet society.

Yeltsin did break this tradition in many ways, because under the same president we had many prime ministers, whom he changed like musical chairs almost every three months. We were wrenched from Victor Chernomyrdin, who was a very Soviet, sort of cold-looking, big man who, before he became the prime minister, grabbed on to the [one of the] most powerful ministries in Russia, that was the Energy Ministry. He was really a very Soviet man. Then this very Soviet man was replaced by Sergei Kiriyenko, who was a very liberal and reforming Communist. Then there was Yevgeny Primakov, who was the foreign minister before he became prime minister, then there was Sergei Stepashin, then there was Vladimir Putin, and so on and so forth. So what Yeltsin allowed during his reign was to have [a variety] in Russian politics, which I personally think is a great, great achievement of this politician who, from my point of view has a lot of force.

Yeltsin resigned in 1999, thus creating a precedent in Russian history of a president who will leave power at his own will. We did have Nicholas II, who abdicated right before the revolution, but he really didn’t want to abdicate. He was forced to abdicate because there was no hope. Yeltsin did it in a very good way, thus creating his legacy.

What do we know about Putin? Putin is the first Russian president who did not come as a cancellation of the previous regime, which again I consider a great development of Russian political culture. However, we don’t know much about Putin, and that’s why I consider that there is a mystery around him, a mystery of political strategy for at least a number of years in the next century. The interesting thing about Putin is that he seems to be able to bridge all sorts of extremes. Until very recently, every single politician in Russia, from the left, from the right, was in favor of this very candidate. Every time, when we turn to the Chechnya military campaign, which is apparently the most important reason for Putin’s popularity, everyone in Russia, except recently just one politician, everyone in Russia was showing up for this military development.... In my later presentation, I will try to explain from my point of view why this happened.

In order to understand who Putin is--in my very short visit to California, and when speaking to people, the question is, who is Putin, and what to expect. I don’t know who’s Putin and what to expect, but what I will try to do is offer a composition of positive and negative signs of Putin’s possible leadership.

Let me start with negatives because, somehow, when I was designing this table, the negatives would always come first. Maybe that’s not a good development, but that’s what I have. Putin, as you’ve probably read many times, was a KGB official for many years. He was in Germany as a KGB clerk....So this is kind of a negative issue from my point of view. There are positives, however: he became a KGB clerk and KBG official during Yuri Andropov’s [rule]. I don’t know how many of you remember Andropov as the Russian leader . He was [there] for a very short time, right after Brezhnev’s death in 1982 . [Andropov] actually became leader of Russia from the KGB--he was head of KGB at that time. It was considered to be a very frightening development. However, in the very short period of Andropov’s regime, I would

say--because from my point of view all regimes, whether they were liberal or not liberal, in the Soviet Union the whole system was pretty much a totalitarian system altogether--that Andropov happened to turn out to be quite a liberal. He opened up more freedoms, he caused the KGB archives for the first time to be opened on a very, very limited basis. He tried to do some opening of the society. And from my point of view, really the greatest service he could have taken for Russia in that time [was that] he was the one who started promoting Mikhail Gorbachev. Mikhail Gorbachev actually started his career under Andropov, which, personally, I think was the best thing that could have happened to the Soviet Union at that time.

Anyway, Putin started his career under Andropov, too, and in a way that suggests he may be somewhat liberal. There are other suggestions of him being liberal, [including] that he comes from St. Petersburg--and St. Petersburg, for those of you who know Russia, is the former Leningrad--is much more liberal than Moscow itself because it didn’t hold central power, and it didn’t have to respond to all sorts of tough political pressures. So in a way it was a city of liberalism. The post-Soviet mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, was actually Putin’s mentor and former professor of economics. Anatoly Chubais, the father of Russian privatization, was also a very well-known economist. He was the one with whom Putin worked in St. Petersburg, and then Chubais did bring Putin to Moscow, into the government, in the ‘90s. So these are all, in a way, kind of positive things to consider.

The negative part here is that [although] Putin uses the right rhetoric, and he has in some ways the right credentials because he was hanging out with liberals although he was a KGB man, it might all only be the right rhetoric. And as we remember, Stalin himself also had very right rhetoric; it’s just the actions that were implemented were not the right ones. So it might be just a cover-up. I’m just trying to present arguments toward positive and negative developments. The interesting thing about Putin is that in economics he has followed liberal ideas, and he presents market values as something Russia could follow. In his millennium address, which was published as the prime ministerial millennial address--although it sounded very presidential, it was published on December 29--Putin talks at length about the Russian economy and talks about advice from Chubais and other political economists which he’s going to use and implement to actually bring Russia to economic prosperity.

The problem here, however, and this is the negative part of his economic program, is that in the very middle of the program he puts the military complex, in the center, and says: Well, Russia cannot develop economically unless it takes care of its military complex." So here we have somewhat a contradiction, somewhat a suggestion that the military would become the center of Putin’s policy.

In a way, it has been developing this way since he became the prime minister in August 1999, when the Chechnya II War started at exactly that time. What Putin is trying to do is to use the military as political lever. There were actually a lot of things to say about the Chechen war. It doesn’t look very good on first sight, but when Putin really started--and he used the word defending--when he started defending the Chechen people against the international [incursion from] Dagestan (which is another republic in the Caucasus, which the Chechen terrorists occupied), he claimed that it is an international war; it is an international problem. Because the people who led the terrorist actions in Dagestan were not all of them of Chechen origin. There was a lot of speculation, and we’ve had some evidence, that Osama bin Laden was behind the rebel movement, some of the leaders of the rebels were from Afghanistan and Jordan, and, in fact, the training of the Chechens was happening in Afghanistan.

So he presented this problem as an international problem. But it wasn’t picked up by the Western press as such, in fact it wasn’t picked up by the State Department as such. It was just immediately responded to as Russia tries to push down the independent movement," and so forth. And I have to say that I myself, definitely not a defender of either Putin or military actions, I was somewhat surprised that more research and more careful analysis were not done [by the Western press] and that the West didn’t look more into the real causes of the war. Chechens themselves, in fact, declared that what they’re fighting for is not so much independence from Russia, but the reason for independence from Russia is actually independence from the Western ways Russia chose to follow, which in some ways is a frightening development, because what they were claiming is that Islamic fundamentalism is the direction and road that Chechnya is going to take.

These are the reasons why the Chechen War is very, very popular in Russia and actually boosted Putin’s popularity up to 55 percent--precisely because he did seem to have a different agenda from the one in 1996, and also because for the first time the West was presented as an institutional organization, an entity, which did not want to understand Russia’s agenda. It was actually put in the context of the NATO expansion which, as you know, the Russians were very much against; in the context of the Iraq bombing of 1998, which Russia was not particularly fond of; and especially the Kosovo crisis, when Russia was very eager to be involved and wasn’t involved--and in due course was involved later, after a lot of screaming on the Russian part, and [still there was a feeling] that Russian power was not taken into consideration. So this whole Chechen situation really boosted up Russian anti-Western rhetoric, and Putin played very well on that.

The negative, the very negative development here--and I would say that the explanations are very reasonable, that Russia is fighting against terrorists in Chechnya--is that there is a new policy that hasn’t been implemented but has definitely been announced. It is the policy that men, Chechen men from age 10 to 60, are not going to be allowed to leave the Republic of Chechnya until they are moved into filtration camps," and there will be checked for their connections with terrorists. If this is going to happen indeed, if this is going to happen in practice, then I would definitely say that all my attempts to put Putin at somewhat 50-50, and in the questionable light of maybe being a good future or maybe an acceptable future for Russia--actually, this whole construction will fall apart. I actually haven’t been up very much on the news for about the last two days so I really don’t know what [has developed regarding] these filtration camps.

An interesting development, however, a positive one, is that in talks with international representatives Putin calls for political settlement in Chechnya and, in fact, two days ago he announced that he would very much welcome the United Nations involvement in the process of settling peace and starting negotiations. He definitely will not call for NATO, because NATO for him is somewhat the enemy, it’s the alliance that excluded Russians, and Russians really will try to reach out to more international and less involved political organizations. That’s why Putin came to the United Nations.

The bad news here is that on the 10th of January Putin actually published, or designed and signed, a strategy doctrine for Russia. Russia hasn’t had a strategy doctrine for almost ten years because the strategy doctrine for Yeltsin’s presidency was actually the economic doctrine: we would follow the West, America would show us the way, we would just fix our economy and the rest of it would not matter. What Putin is trying to do here is he’s trying to say, "Well, Russia feels betrayed by the West. We really tried our best and we were eating off your hands, you chose not to recognize us--or at least when you were recognizing us and making us the member of G-8 [it] was just a fake recognition. Because, after all, how can we be in the G-8, the financially developed countries, when we are in debt up to here? So it really was a mockery."

What Putin is trying to do is present the Russian security agenda as something that will make the West listen. In this security strategy he did a very sort of frightening, but in some ways politically smart, move: what he did, and this is basically the essence of the strategy, is that he announced that Russia will stop having its nuclear missiles only for defensive purposes and it has the right, a legal right, for itself to be on the defensive. So it basically equals itself with the United States and goes back to the situation of the Cold War, when neither of the parties, these two competing parties, [knew] what would trigger a response and, therefore, really had to watch out for critical situations like Kosovo and so on. But [they] really had to communicate before making decisions on one side or another side.

In fact, actually, this also goes to the Chechen war, because if the international community does decide to consider it an offensive and they consider it their problem, then Russia would have to face the international reality....The rhetoric of this security strategy, somewhat, was styled to the West....There was a need to increase the state’s military potential as the level of threats and the country’s fears are rising. So Putin wants to insure his strength through designing a new security strategy, while in economics he’s strongly declared that he’s going on the road to liberal economic development. In fact, his new deputy prime minister--so far [Putin] holds both titles, he’s acting president and he’s the prime minister of Russia at the same time, and will hold them until March 26 when the next official presidential election happens--he made his deputy, his first deputy, the very pro-Western Russian finance minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, who actually is very good in talks with IMF and has a great reputation here in the United States and in Europe. In a way what Putin’s trying to do is to bridge two extremes....economically, Russia’s going to continue the course.

Going back to Chechnya, I think the reason for this strategy that just appeared, the reason for [people] to start talking about Chechnya in a negative way, the reason for Russian media, which about two weeks ago really started screaming about the horrors of Chechnya and creating a situation when actually the war would become less popular because, instead of showing victories it shows the reality and the brutality of Chechens and Russians as well: my reading of it--and actually, people are very confused by what that might mean--my reading of this is as a perfect KGB tactic. A clever KGB man spells out different scenarios and chooses the one that suits him best. What I think what Putin is doing is that he cannot really go to the elections having the Chechen War right there, because in three months Russian politics develops very quickly, as you know, and there is something always going on.

I think what Putin is really trying to do is tell the West that I have a strategy, so you really have to respect me now because if you don’t respect me, I’m going to turn back and do whatever I want to do as an independent country." On the one hand he says, "Well, economics is an important thing so if you’re willing to help you’re willing to help." And he also tries to create a public opinion in Russia, which will give him an excuse without offending the military men, because the military men often really want to continue the war because that’s how they get their glory. Ending the war would say, Well, I really care about my people. I’m having elections on the 26th of March, and it’s really very important for us to enter the new century, the new millennium, the new year, the new presidency , the new anything with a clean bill of public relations, a bill of military health, a bill of any other health we want to have here." This will allow him to end the war because publicly it’s not supported any more.

I personally believe that the reason that politicians started opposing the war was a very clever way to get out of it, also securing and actually involving the United Nations into this...and give them credit for helping out. This is a very bright and very positive scenario, I grant you. I really hope that I’m analyzing it right.

There is a little frightening part, and this is basically my last assessment here: that in view of this nuclear military revival in Russia, the frightening part is that FSB [the former KGB] and secret presidential services were only last week granted authority to monitor electronic mail and Internet usage. We’re talking about freedom of expression, so this is not a very positive development and it does frighten me. But the print media hasn’t been affected yet, and I really don’t know where this development will go. So if worse comes to worst, is Russia on the way to liberal dictatorship? The economic recovery is a very hard process, and military strength is definitely an easy win. However, if economic recovery speeds up--and actually, Russia did very well last year; the gross national product grew 1.5 percent, which for a broken economy is a good achievement--we might then see a happier Russia.

I would like to end with two scenarios: one is that Stalin, if we look at history, Stalin came to power almost the same way that Putin did. He was a quiet man, short, pockmarked, not very good-looking, not very well-educated. And he was walking around the Kremlin corridors picking out the most horrible jobs that no one else wanted to do. And Trotsky and other bright figures on the Soviet political horizon then fought for power, and all of a sudden, before they knew it, Stalin became everything: the hand of Russia, the father of all people and all those other great things that Soviet rhetoric allowed at that time. So there is a scenario; I hope it will not go this way, but it might, and it might go into negative. Another thing--and I’d like to end on a cheery note here--is that when Gorbachev came to power in 1985, we didn’t know where he would go. And for the first couple of months there was praising of Stalin in the Soviet press, and after a while, all of a sudden, Khrushchev’s name was mentioned. It hadn’t been mentioned for over twenty years in the Soviet press. And all of a sudden there was one mention, then a second one, then a third one, and then we have Gorbachev who I think was probably the greatest man of the 20th century.

When Yeltsin came to power, he promised the best democratic development. I’m not sure that we actually did see that. When Khrushchev came to power he fought with Stalinists through very Stalinistic means, because when he wanted to get rid of Beria, the last KGB chief in Stalin’s administration, instead of saying that Beria had killed a lot of people and therefore he had to die himself, Khrushchev accused him of being a German spy. Which is, of course, nonsense, but that was the rationale at the time.

Thank you very much.