Author chats about the Russian elections
March 15, 2000
(CNN) – Author Brian Crozier joined the CNN.com chat room to discuss the upcoming elections in Russia. Crozier is an accomplished writer on terrorism and insurgencies worldwide and the Cold War.
For many years, Crozier led a double life, on contract with the CIA, the British Secret Intelligence Service and the Information Research Department of Britain’s Foreign Office. In 1977 Crozier set up a "private sector" international action service. During most of this period, he was unofficially advising Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and on occasion President Reagan. He later told the story in detail in his autobiography "Free Agent: The Unseen War 1941 – 1991." Now aged 81, he recently released "The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire."
Crozier participated in the chat on March 14, 2000, by telephone from London and CNN.com provided a typist for him. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.
Chat Moderator: Welcome Brian Crozier.
Brian Crozier: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Chat Moderator: Mikhail Gorbachev and others have warned that Vladimir Putin's expected victory in the presidential elections could mean a return to authoritarian rule in Russia. Do you believe this is true?
Brian Crozier: I think there is a real possibility of a return to authoritarian rule in Russia. One has to remember that the Russians and inhabitants of the vast republic have never had any experience of democracy. The apparent attempt by President Boris Yeltsin to introduce some kind of democracy was not successful. And when it came to it, Yeltsin would simply sack one Prime Minister and bring in another.
Over a very short period, there were no fewer than 5 Prime Ministers in Moscow. The only one who lasted several years was Chernomyrdin. And Chernomyrdin's main experience in his career was to run the Soviet gas industry. And he was around for about 5 years I suppose. And Yeltsin sacked him and started appointing others. Now Putin is better placed than the earlier ones because Yeltsin has retired... he has pulled himself out of the race.
And certainly, of all the choices Yeltsin made previously, the choice of Putin is certainly the most interesting. But it would be very surprising if Putin were to turn out to be a democratic leader. One must remember that he made his career in the KGB. And in a way it is a rather limited career because it is almost entirely in East Germany. And one of his accomplishments is that he speaks excellent German. But that doesn't really help him in his political career. Another is that he is a black belt in Judo. That is good for him but not necessarily a guarantee of a good political leader. In his manifesto for the presidential election, which is looming ahead on March 26th, he proclaimed a list of the virtues that he supports, namely, patriotism, efficiency, honesty and determination. But of course we have to look at Putin's immediate choice of the task that he wanted to accomplish, which was to bring Chechnya under complete Russian control.
Bearing in mind that the Chechens beat the Russians to complete standstill 3 years ago. And Yeltsin had to bring in General Lebed to bring the fighting to a close, which he did. And in the current war, which Putin has tried to give the impression that it is all over, but is still continuing, Putin has proved himself absolutely ruthless. As soon as one thinks that everything is all over, the Chechen guerillas come back. For example they have been just attacking a suburb of the Chechen capitol, Groszny
Now it may well be that Putin is probably incorruptible financially. I don't think he is the kind of man who wants to make a fortune out of the chances that are there. And I think he has the gift of leadership. But I don't see him in any circumstance a democratic leader.
Chat Moderator: Putin's popularity among Russians appeared to soar after he launched the latest offensive in Chechnya, last September? If the war drags on after the election, what do you think it will do to Putin's political career? Brian Crozier: Good question. Putin has already indicated several times that the war is over and the Russians have won. But the Chechens keep on coming back. But I think his aim is really to bring the struggle to an end so that he comes to power as the victor, as one who finally defeated the Chechens. But the longer the struggle goes on, and particularly if it goes on after he is elected, the sooner his reputation for leadership is tarnished.
Chat Moderator: Putin is an unusual combination -- a career intelligence official whose political career began in the office of a political reformist. Could you comment on this apparent paradox?
Brian Crozier: Whether one can put it that way I'm not sure. He is an intelligent man. And he realizes that after the disastrous years of Yeltsin in power, he must live up to the reputation as a reformist. But so far, he has been so preoccupied with the war in Chechnya that one cannot say that he has carried out improvements or reforms. So to the extent that we may hope for reform, we must wait until after his election.
Chat Moderator: Can you comment on some of the other candidates running for president in Russia? There appears to be a very wide spectrum, politically.
[09:10] Brian Crozier: I haven't got the names in front of me at the moment but I don't think any of them have a chance. There are some powerful people... for example the capitalist and "tycoon" Boris Berezovsky. He dominates the aluminum industry just as Chernomyrdin dominated the gas industry. He was influential under Yeltsin but I don't think he will be under Putin.
There is another point. As you no doubt know, Tony Blair, the British PM and his wife have just spent some time in Moscow in the company of Putin and his wife. Blair is the first western leader to try to establish a relationship. This is important because Blair will have gained influence as a European leader, which will be of considerable value to Putin. But there is a long way for Putin to go before Russia can be seen as a successful country. Bearing in mind the unfortunate fact that the pre change of regime, the gangsters and Mafia in different parts of the former Soviet Union are still very active. Bear in mind that the Russian Mafia have links with the Japanese Yakuzi, with the Sicilian Mafia, with the Cosa Nostra in the US, and with the drugsters in Colombia. So the more one looks at the situation, the more one sees the enormity of the problems Putin will face.
Chat Moderator: Russia is faced with such a great number of crises now -- political, economic, environmental. What do you think is the nation's greatest challenge now?
Brian Crozier: The nation's greatest challenge is to get the economy and especially the financial side of the economy reformed. There have been prior attempts but they failed. The only part that flourishes is the Mafia. And many parts of Russia, including Siberia, there is kind of barter economy, which is not a key to lasting prosperity. In terms of intelligence, I mean in the intellectual sense, not referring to Putin's former career, he has many of the gifts that are necessary for success. But the west would be mistaken to think that he is bringing democracy to Russia. If democracy comes it will be much later in my view.
Chat Moderator: What do you think Putin's first international policies will be after the elections?
Brian Crozier: I think his first preoccupation internationally will be to draw in the special club 7 or 8 of the most prosperous nations in the world, led by the US and Japan. I hope personally that he will not aim to join to NATO, because to me this has been an ultimate absurdity. But if he were able to restore some kind of financial equilibrium, it would be to everyone's advantage for Russia to join the "club" of successful nations. But this won't happen over night.
Chat Moderator: Can Russia ever have a true democracy, or will it always need one strict, dominant leader?
Brian Crozier: Well that is the fundamental question I've already dealt with. They have never had a democracy. There was some talk after Lenin came to power, but there has never been a democracy there. It won't happen over night. I think Putin is intelligent enough to AIM at democracy, if only for purposes of enlightened self interest. But there's a fundamental contradiction because only a man with complete power in a situation like Russia's can impose a change of constitution. Now, there have been elections in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I wouldn't rule out that this would happen. But I can't see it developing in a way that would make sense to the outside world in the immediate future.
Question from RadioFlyr: I recently read a report that states there are more millionaires under the age of 30 in Russia than in any other country. This seems to be a curious parallel to what most Russians are said to be experiencing (economically). Do these numbers reflect government influence or are they basically underground "entrepreneurs"?
Brian Crozier: I would day they are basically underground entrepreneurs. I don't think it is a question of government influence. Bear in mind that a considerable portion of the new money made by these young entrepreneurs does not remain in Russia. A lot of it is banked in London, Frankfurt, and New York.
Question from Mags: Do you think Putin is the best choice to lead Russia at this time?
Brian Crozier: Interesting question... but I would put it in another way. Is there any other leader available? I once thought that Lebed would make a good leader. I'm sure he has ambitions but he is running a distant republic in Siberia and does not appear to be a serious candidate. So it seems that Putin, whatever the opposition, will continue to remain in power.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Brian Crozier: Well, I think it is a question of a choice between unsatisfactory possibilities. Whatever emerges after the election, we must not kid ourselves that Russia will become a democracy. It won't. But I think we can hope that at least Putin will bring in some form of democratic control of financial matters. It won't turn instantly into a democracy that we would recognize as such.
Chat Moderator: Thank you Mr. Crozier for joining us today.
Brian Crozier: Thank you!
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