НСБ «Хранитель» Национальная безопасность Охранная деятельность Видеожурнал "ХРАНИТЕЛЬ"

14 january, 2007 | By Nikolai Denisov

Requiem for the Passing Age (77838)

  History should be unforgiving… (Nikolai Karamzin)

In the 20th century Russian history made two abrupt U-turns – in 1917 and in 1991. And each time the Russian world recovered after tremendous sacrifices and upheavals. In both cases this country plunged into the unknown with hopes of a better life. In both cases tectonic shifts were set in motion by members of the ruling classes. In 1917, it was hereditary nobleman Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin; in 1991, a peasant’s son Boris Yeltsin, candidate member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. True, nobleman Ulyanov was said to have eliminated exploitation of man by man, while the regional committee secretary Yeltsin legitimized the omnipotence of cash over the post-Soviet space, which was by then perceptibly diminished – to a large degree as a result of his own efforts. 

Already the first media commentaries on the demise of democratic Russia’s ex-president, on April 23, 2007, were full of fairly trite statements to the effect that with the passing of Yeltsin a whole epoch went away with him. Actually it did not, as successors to supreme power and all of us ordinary mortals will yet have to work a good deal to undo the harm from the inhuman and wasteful reforms. Besides, since Yeltsin is identified with the time of troubles, the message has to be not just to the deceased leader of the discord, but also to the age in the context of which the destructive Yeltsin regime took shape. 

It is the Christian custom not to speak ill of the dead. However, we are not really talking about a person but about the slowly passing age. Guardian/Khranitel is not an oppositionist site. It is objective, and it is the balanced approach to the recent events and respect for the truth that makes us talk of the Yeltsin times sine ira et studio

…By the time of Yeltsin’s “voluntary” resignation, Russia was in fact ruled by three main forces – power, money and weapons. Power in the person of Boris Yeltsin, who relied on loyal structures and his strong-arm entourage; the wealth of the new financial groups, owners of capital and speculators; and the weapons and money of criminal clans. Moreover, all power centers were in conjunction with one another, acting in a united front that maintained the desired status quo. Workers, peasants, engineers, servicemen, scientists and other hard-working groups, society’s chief productive force, possessed neither power nor property to speak of. 

Over the decade during which the new Russian state kept drifting, social and cultural polarization in society increased dramatically. The quintile coefficient of income differentiation (reflecting the ratio of the upper 20 percent income brackets to the lower ones) grew from 2.5 or 3 in the late 1980s to 7 or 9 by the close of the century. The poverty zone over the same period expanded from 18% to 40%-50%. The main conflict of Russian society is the conflict between the ruling class and hired labor. This is the primary cause of potential social conflicts endangering Russia’s security, and it has not been removed. 

The second reason for the deepening confrontation mood in Russian society during the Yeltsin reign was the policy of capitalization and Americanization of the country adopted by the Soviet, and later Russian, leadership in 1988-1989. Using power levers, quasi-reformers could take mandatory decisions but failed to supervise their implementation, consider the aftereffects, or provide a system of responsibility. 

Of democracy, which the country did indeed need badly, the ruling clique had a pretty simplistic idea. The declared freedoms were rather a wholesale injection of indifference to the lot of one’s neighbors, to the criminal doings of the “New Russians,” and to the country’s future. The policy of liberal reforms that raised to absolutes the rights and interests of the individual, actually recognized the latter’s exemption from control by society (outside the reach of the Criminal and Administrative Codes), and freedom to choose any lifestyle, including things like chronic boozing, vagrancy, drug addiction, thriftless use of property, and the right to membership in nationalist and extremist organizations. All of that corrupted society eroding the foundations of its existence. “The demagogic essence of such liberalism,” as pointed out by S. Gerasimov, LLD, director of the Law and Order Consolidation Research Center at the RF General Prosecutor’s Office, “consists in proclaiming limitless rights and freedoms for the individual in conditions where millions of our people have been plunged into grinding poverty, so that while they have the abstract right, say, to direct appeal to the Constitutional Court in order to protect their interests, they cannot afford the fare to go there. This philosophy has something of the Devil about it juxtaposing as it does, in a purely mechanical, non-dialectical way, the interests of the individual, on the one hand, and those of society that consists of a multitude of individuals, on the other. Finally, not infrequently, it is the individual’s superficial, temporary interests of the moment that are given prominence, and that, upon closer inspection, proves detrimental to the individual as such, running against his or her basic, long-term interests.”1 

The public, alas, took too long to see through the reforms. The struggle for power between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin so badly distorted the historical perspective that many of our contemporaries started thinking that the two were perfect opposites, whereas they had but a one identical long-term idea. “In personal terms they are enemies, but historically, they are allies. Such is occasionally the whim of dialectics of earthly relations,” writes St. Petersburg historian I.Ya. Froyanov apropos of the “historic merits” of the first Soviet and Russian presidents.2

A third reason for the worsening social intolerance in society was increasingly frequent forcible armed actions by the authorities against the people. I am alluding to the October 1993 events when, on Boris Yeltsin’s personal orders and through the actions of his entourage, the House of Soviets was shelled, parliamentary democracy was eliminated, the Constitution was canceled, the Constitutional Court was blocked, etc. I am also alluding to the war in Chechnya unleashed by the upper echelons of power that has cost the country many thousands of lives, both military and civilian. 

According to most political analysts, had Moscow acted sensibly, the military phase of the conflict in the Chechen Republic could have been avoided. “Why didn’t President Yeltsin deign to personally take part in a political settlement of the Chechen problem?” wonders N.S. Leonov, ex-head of the Soviet KGB Analytical Department in his book. “In 1992-1994, Boris Yeltsin went to the Caucasus four or five times, to vacation there or for other reasons, but he did not once find time to meet Jokhar Dudaev who back in 1991 had been one of the first to cable to the Kremlin his congratulations on Yeltsin’s election victory, and incidentally, had ensured pro-Yeltsin voting in Chechnya that gave him 80% of the vote there.”3 

The politics of the Yeltsin cabinet resembled a convexo-concave figure; its convex side exerted an inexorable pressure on the federation entities, while agents subject to international law, particularly the G7 countries, were treated by the Kremlin with excessive delicacy, yielding to pressure from foreign agents to the detriment of Russia’s interests. The “internal diplomatic corps” as represented by the Nationalities Ministry, RF President’s plenipotentiaries, and other structures, rode roughshod over problem regions. Meanwhile, a law-based administrative resource would have been a lot more effective.

The materials of the RF Duma Commission for the Impeachment of Boris Yeltsin provided ample proof of the Constitution Guarantor’s legal incompetence. “We observe in the actions of the president transgression of authority and elements of a serious offense,” said chairman of the State Duma Security Committee Viktor Ilyukhin, specifying the charge, “stipulated by Part 2 of Article 171 of the RSFSR Penal Code, or by Parts 2 and 3 of Article 286 of the RF Penal Code.”4 

Making the bad situation worse, Yeltsin issued three decrees in November-December 1994: No.2137, On Measures to Restore Constitutional Law and Order in the Chechen Republic, of November 30, 1994; No.2166, On Measures to Deter Illegal Armed Formations in the Chechen Republic and in the Area of the Osetian-Ingush Conflict, of December 9, 1994; No.2169, On Measures to Ensure Law, Order and Public Security in the Chechen Republic. All three contravene the RF Constitution and RF laws then in effect. By these decrees the president effectively declared a state of emergency, introducing the legal notions of a “special entry and exit procedure,” “special governance forms,” and “special travel regulations.” 

Under the Constitution, decrees like that are to be submitted for approval to the Federation Council and published. Yeltsin did neither. By the same decrees the president authorized the government to use violence in disarming illegal armed formations. Neither the Constitution nor any other federal laws entitled the president to handle on his own the issue of military methods on Chechen territory. 

The implementation of Yeltsin’s “legal” acts resulted in violence that cost the country tens of thousands of lives, staggering material losses, and abuse of the rights and freedoms of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. While practically declaring a state of emergency in the Chechen Republic, Yeltsin did not create any legal tool to control and normalize the situation, which completely disorganized the entire appeasement process in Chechnya. The RF constitutional law On the Emergency Situation did not come into effect till May 30, 2001.

Vladimir Putin gave a just and fairly unprejudiced assessment of his predecessor and of the latter’s cabinet at the Kremlin press conference on June 24, 2002: “The federal center is responsible for abandoning the people of Chechnya to its fate.” “The state machinery failed,” “the state proved unable to protect the interests of the Chechen people.”5 

Experienced generals and officers realized that the army was not ready to go to war and that the decision to move into Chechnya was a mistake. Five hundred and forty officers and generals refused to participate in that gamble and take up arms against their fellow countrymen, and were subsequently fired. A sober review of the situation by military experts did nothing to discourage the Kremlin. During the assault on Grozny in January 1995, the federal forces lost 1,426 men dead and 4,630 wounded. The gunmen burned 300 armored personnel carriers and combat infantry vehicles, plus nearly 60 tanks. Virtually the entire 81st and 74th motorized infantry regiments were wiped out, as were the 131st Maikop and the 276th Brigades.6 

The RF Administration at the time of worsening relations with the regions favored strong-arm methods in “restoring constitutional order.” For instance, in March 1992, the belligerent Moscow seriously considered sending troops to Tatarstan…7 

Reason number four why the Yeltsin regime was thoroughly disliked in Russia stemmed from the authorities’ failures in geostrategic and geopolitical matters. The leader failed to defend the country’s historical gains (loss of the Baltic, Central Asian and Transcaucasian territories), took lying down the fact that Russia was forced back from the Baltic and the Black Seas, the Caspian Sea redivision, and loss of influence within our geopolitical space in general. Which allowed our foes to remind the erstwhile superpower, arrogantly and jeeringly, that from now on its place was in the backyard of civilization…

Nor did the Yeltsin administration have a coherent program of state construction, of creating structures responsible for the state’s security. The general mood was to destroy the “totalitarian past,” and it dominated the minds of the “democratic elite” and government officials of the Gaidar era. Kremlin managers assumed that once the administrative resource was turned over to the regions, republican and regional leaders would sort things out somehow. 

For instance, the Federative Treaty was signed nearly 12 months before the RF Constitution was adopted. In the first half of the 1990s that flawed legal act played a part in encouraging the “sovereignty parade” among federation entities. After the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the RSFSR was approved, a considerable factor in the Yeltsin administration’s destructive activity was the enforcement, in late October 1990, of the law on the operation of USSR laws on RSFSR territory, which provided for criminal responsibility of individuals and officials who would fulfill the requirements of USSR laws not ratified by Russia. Apropos of that Anatoly Lukyanov observed drily: “It is an absolute first in world legal practice – fulfillment of laws has been declared an offense.”8 

Shortly afterwards a law on ensuring the economic basis of RSFSR sovereignty was adopted under which all items of state property, including organizations under Union authority, became property of the Russian Federation. Then confrontation was transferred to the area of budget relations. The 1991 Budget Act deprived the Union of any means of existence of its own … 

The new Russian rulers did not feel very comfortable on the ruins of the Union state. Sensing the weakness of the Yeltsin team, the country’s regions took their cue from the ethnic republics and started haggling over freedoms and privileges for themselves. Forty-six federation entities signed pacts with the center that later served as the basis of over 500 agreements. Attempts to rein in administration heads through the Constitutional Court, budget subsidies or the Transneft oil transporting company achieved only a temporary respite. Even the 1999 federal law on the principles and procedure of delimiting the subjects of jurisdiction and powers failed to stabilize Moscow’s relations with the regions. The authorities’ difficulties were due to their managerial ineptitude and the daunting scale of the complex problems facing them. 

Taken together, these factors gave rise to confrontation all along the front – between the upper and the lower strata, the regions and the center. Indeed, the socioeconomic reasons for the current strife in Russia are rooted in the objective polarity of economic and social interests of different strata; political and societal grounds for confrontation lie in the rejection of the upper circles’ domestic and foreign policies; and furthermore,  the forcible military actions against the public provoked increasingly radical politicies and ideology, confirming the people in their confrontational attitude to the first Kremlin administration, and from habit also to the second one. 

The force responsible for the mood of confrontation or harmony in society as its determining feature is the powers that be. This is axiomatic. Besides, the success, value and very existence of the powers that be depend on how well their actions correspond to the objective “laws of demand,” to the development trends. If the authorities help the manifestation of natural needs of social progress, if they eliminate emerging contradictions and endeavor to settle conflicts, then they are progressive and viable, since they enjoy the backing of the public. If the authorities answer the need of social progress in some ways but hamper it in others, their position is precarious. But if the authorities put up hurdles to the natural course of historical development, if they impose their reckless “innovations” in disregard of objective reality, such authorities are unnatural, reactionary and anti-national. 

Putin’s era has taken the country out of the quagmire. Stabilization became possible because the mood of revenge-seeking, carefully cultivated by the leftist opposition, failed to become a dominant force in society and bring to power the leftist leaders. It was the leftist opposition, to quote a Rossiyskaya gazeta columnist,9 that while declaring itself a sworn enemy of reform, in fact did no better than the radical reformers on the right flank, both of them making a “priceless contribution,” each in their own way, to the collapse of the state and economics: the democrats (who today describe themselves as right-wing), through preaching blind faith in the market but really building a bureaucratic oligarchic system; the communists, through stalling the transformations long overdue and diligently rocking the boat. Irresponsible populism, degradation and crisis in the 1990s are the fruit of joint efforts by the communists and democrats. that while declaring itself a sworn enemy of reform, in fact did no better than the radical reformers on the right flank, both of them making a “priceless contribution,” each in their own way, to the collapse of the state and economics: the democrats (who today describe themselves as right-wing), through preaching blind faith in the market but really building a bureaucratic oligarchic system; the communists, through stalling the transformations long overdue and diligently rocking the boat. Irresponsible populism, degradation and crisis in the 1990s are the fruit of joint efforts by the communists and democrats. 

The authority of the national leader, reliance on political consolidation, a government acting in unison with the Duma – these are, in our view, the key components of the political mechanism that has allowed Russia to ride out the crisis where it was plunged by the irresponsible politicians of the 1990s. 

Real movement away from conflict and toward harmony is impossible without material changes in the stand of the upper strata that would bring it closer to that of the public, since the only proper road to concord is through steps taken by both differing sides, to say nothing of opposing ones. Paramount are the steps taken by the “master of the situation,” which in the circumstances is the power of the president. 

We have confined ourselves to listing the more obvious, fundamental contradictions caused by the systemic crisis of society and the state, and also by the efforts of our strategic rivals that, together, made up the critical mass that blew up the ethnic peace of Eurasia. The stabilization of the last few years suggests that the state has taken under control the effect of destructive tendencies. 

It is clear that Russia will turn into a law-based, federative state when the authorities are bound by law in their decisions and actions, and at the same time manage to efficiently guarantee fail-safe functioning of the law in every sphere throughout the country. The basis for building such a state is there all right. Russia’s Constitution has enshrined a number of unshakeable principles ensuring legal and federative statehood – integrity and inviolability of RF territory, equal rights for the entities, development of the Russian Federation on the ethnic and territorial principles, both equally important; separation of powers, and direct action of the Constitution norms and principles on the country’s territory. 

Naturally, this fragmentary reconstruction of the recent past cannot exhaust the Yeltsin era. That inglorious period in our history will continue to attract the attention of scholars in this country and abroad. And we can only hope that in their studies they will follow the rule of Nikolai Karamzin: History should be unforgiving – not in the sense of remembering nothing but evil, but of remembering everything, without selecting only the nicer and heart-warming bits.

1 Shield and Sword, June 27, 2002


2 I.Ya. Froyanov, Sliding into the Abyss. Moscow 2002, p. 267


3 N.S. Leonov, Russia’s Stations of the Cross. 1991-2000, Moscow 2002, p. 242


4 V.I. Ilyukhin, Yeltsin Stands Indicted. Moscow 1999, p. 27


5 Rossiyskaya gazeta, June 25, 2002


6 Moskovsky komsomolets, March 28, 2002


7 Sotsialisticheskaya Rossiya, Issue 11, 2002


8 A.I. Lukyanov, The Coup, Real and Imagined. Moscow 1993, p. 47


9 Rossiyskaya gazeta, August 15, 2003


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