Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 10

Yeltsin’s Impotent Intellectuals

By Nikolai Troitsky

The Kremlin has always been short of brains. This is a long-standingtradition. It was this way under the emperors and it was thisway under the CPSU general secretaries. Boris Yeltsin, a presidentelected by a nationwide vote, is not very much different fromhis predecessors.

Nevertheless, Boris Yeltsin was the first who had dared to breakthe age-long nomenklatural tradition: He formed a team of "highbrows"and he called them to work with him seriously and for a long time.

The Russian president needed people who on the one hand were eagerto share their knowledge with him, while on the other hand wouldstay in the shade of his glory, who were ready to pull the "apparatuscart" and become obscure "cogs" in the mechanismof state power. In other words, Boris Yeltsin needed talentedpeople, who did not crave publicity; people with brains, but withoutambitions. Boris Yeltsin managed to find what he wanted. One byone his team was joined by sociologists Mark Urnov and GeorgySatarov, economist Aleksandr Livshits, geographer and politicalexpert Leonid Smirnyagin, ethnic relations expert Emil Pain andlawyer Mikhail Krasnov. All of them had achieved a lot in theirchosen fields, all of them could have had brilliant academic careers,and all of them sacrificed their scientific pursuits in favorof becoming state officials. Now all of them have sunk into theoblivion of the state apparatus. They took positions as advisors,assistants or heads of analytical centers.

Although no "senior" or "chief" analyst canbe selected in this group of intellectuals, without a doubt PresidentialNational Security Advisor Yuri Baturin is the first among equals,the most talented and bright and a person who deserves a moredetailed description.

Baturin’s profession cannot be described in one word. He graduatedfrom two faculties of Moscow State University (The Faculty ofPhysics & Mathematics and the Faculty of Law). As he explainsit himself, "being limited to one sphere of activity hasalways been boring to me," therefore, he wished to be involvedin different spheres of science.

Yuri Baturin was the main author of the famous Law "On MassMedia" which was adopted by the former Supreme Soviet. Thislaw put an end to the practice of "preliminary censorship"and opened the way to genuine freedom of speech. Indeed, nobodyhas dared so far to revise, let alone to abolish, the main provisionsof this law.

Mr. Baturin also wrote a number of books on the theory of computerprogramming and he was the first in Russia to have developed avery special branch of judicial science — computer law. His studiesand publications in this sphere are still regarded as "classics"among specialists in this field with whom I have managed to talk.Baturin was the first person in modern Russia to try to employa "scientific" approach to such a ticklish and purelyhumanitarian domain as political science. He has not had enoughtime to publish any books on the subject and has limited himselfto publishing a dozen articles in various purely scientific editionswhich have very limited circulation. His mathematic models describingpolitical processes are distinguished by their high professionalismand accuracy. In fact, Yuri Baturin is second to none in his remarkableability of analyzing political situations. Mr. Baturin once toldme that he always wrote several books at a time. He spent hisleisure time translating books by Lewis Carroll (a British professorof mathematics and popular writer). Incidentally, Baturin’s translationof Lewis Carroll’s "Hunting for Snark" can well satisfythe taste of any professional linguist. In addition, Mr. Baturinhas made a hobby of analyzing chess positions.

In his early thirties Yuri Baturin defended his Doctor of ScienceThesis on the subject of modeling critical situations in a state,acquired the rank of professor and could have well become country’syoungest academician. He could have laid a foundation of a newbranch of science, but he preferred to quit theoretical studiesin favor of practical work. As a result he has buried his talentunder the pavement stones of the Red Square.

In fact, Mr. Baturin has always had a strange, purely masochistic,urge to enter the corridors of power. His first attempt was, however,unsuccessful. In the fall of 1991 he took a modest post as an"expert for political issues" in the apparatus of then-USSRpresident Mikhail Gorbachev. In one month his office ceased toexist together with the Soviet Union and the post of its president.Baturin understood fairly well that such development of eventswas inevitable (not for nothing had he constructed his mathematicmodels!). Nevertheless, explaining his a priori doomed move oftaking that office he remarked that both in chess and in politicshe was interested primarily in hopeless situations and makingefforts to turn such situations around.

The "Gorbachev game" was; Baturin had failed to turnthe clearly hopeless situation into a beneficial one. As a matterof fact, the "Kremlin chess player" could have donevery little in that situation. Nevertheless, he did not lose hisurge to enter the Kremlin. It was not an easy task for Baturinto reenter the ruling elite. The label of the "last of theGorbachev men" long hampered his efforts. However, in thefinal analysis Mr. Baturin managed to convince those responsiblefor selecting people for Yeltsin’s team that he was not devotedto one political idea.

His second attempt to enter the Kremlin appears, at first glance,to be far more successful. Initially, Baturin was appointed anaide for legal issues and later he received the post of nationalsecurity advisor (incidentally, Mr. Baturin created the latteroffice for himself from scratch: before him, the president ofRussia did not have such advisors, unlike his U.S. counterpart). He made a career and took a place among the courtiers. However,his can hardly be characterized as a true success. In the firstplace, Baturin’s talent and knowledge have never been used infull by his "new masters." From time to time they usedhim as an expert in law and assigned him the task of preparingor editing several dozen draft decrees. In fact, using Yuri Baturinlike this was the same as using an electron microscope for hammeringnails. There is a State & Law Department (GPU) in the presidentialadministration. The GPU employs some 300 people and this armyof clerks could well have managed this task no worse than Mr.Baturin did. After all, why then keep these clerks?

To tell the truth, the scope of decrees Mr. Baturin prepared includedthe "revolutionary" Decree No 1400 "On GradualConstitutional Reform in Russia" which, in fact, put an endto the Congress of People’s Deputies and Supreme Soviet and suspendedthe RSFSR constitution. In fact, Mr. Baturin was just one of manyauthors of this decree and his task was limited to providing alegal basis to what in fact was a coup d’etat. As an experiencedlawyer, Mr. Baturin obediently carried out his work, yet he failedto fulfill his task: He did not manage to find any legal justificationfor this overt violation of the constitution. Incidentally, thiswas not required. The more so that the final political decisionwas made not by the talented highbrows but by President Yeltsin.

The main thing is that Decree No 1400 did not bring glory to anyof its authors-intellectuals. The result was unrest in the centerof Moscow, the shelling of the parliament, and the beginning ofa new wave of political oppression in the country of which theChechen war has been a natural result. In the winter of 1995,when this war had begun, Baturin was engaged in resolving problemsrelated to national security. In fact, it is not known what werehis specific tasks and how he resolved them.

What really matters, however, is not the fact that Mr. Baturinhad acquired access to state secrets (about which he must keephis mouth closed) but that he had not acquired a place in "bigpolitics." For some 18 months Mr. Baturin was busy developinga conception of "army reform." However, no reform hasactually been implemented. One of the main theses of this conceptionwas the one stating that a civilian (not a general who is definitelyunable to rise above purely departmental interests) should beappointed Russian defense minister as it is the fact in all civilizedcountries of the world, including Ukraine. Besides, Yuri Baturinsuggested that the chief of the General Headquarters should beremoved from the subordination of the defense minister, shouldcommand all the armed forces and should be directly subordinateto the president, the supreme military commander. As far as thedefense minister is concerned, he, according to Baturin’s concept,should limit himself to caring for the issues of military doctrineand the Ministry’s budget. Did that mean a personnel revolutionin the military ministry? Not in the least! As soon as Pavel Grachevlearned about Baturin’s plans that all the ideas of the "upstartapparatus reformer" were nipped in the bud. Moreover, the"office strategist" who had dared to encroach on thesacred status of the Defense Ministry (the department where themilitary, not civilians, are supposed to run the show) barelymanaged to escape being fired from the state service.

Shortly after that the politicians dragged the unreformed, half-degradedand demoralized army into one of the most bloody and senselesswars to have ever occurred on the territory of Russia. Nobodytook the opinion of the professional advisor into account. Theplan of the Chechen campaign was elaborated in the General Headquarterswhile Baturin was sent on an assignment to the U.S. When he returnedto Russia the war was already in its full swing and Kremlin intellectualswere forced to justify it and prove that it was inevitable. Baturincarried out this duty with great reluctance. In private conversationshe noted that unleashing the war in Chechnya was a fatal mistakeand that the army and the society had not been prepared for it.Simultaneously, in his office he continued to develop a doctrinefor Russia’s national security, the very doctrine which was atthe same time "successfully undermined" by his immediatebosses in the Kremlin. In confidential conversations with thejournalists he trusted (including me) he admitted that he waswell aware of the fact that nobody in the Kremlin needed the productof his mental work and that in all likelihood the ideas expressedin the document would not be realized.

During the two years he worked as the presidential advisor Mr.Baturin had not only failed to influence the Defense Ministrybut also failed to find levers to influence other force ministries.It is understandable that he could not have done anything regardingthe Presidential Security Service and the Main Guards Departmentheaded by Boris Yeltsin’s closest cohorts Aleksandr Korzhakovand Mikhail Barsukov. Since the latter was appointed to head theFederal Security Service (FSB, which is, in fact, a KGB successor)no "civilian intellectuals," like Baturin, have beenallowed even to approach the force.

As national security advisor, he also failed to do anything concerningthe Interior Ministry (MVD). In the spring of 1994 Boris Yeltsinissued a decree "On Combating Banditry and Organized Crime."In addition to virtually abolishing certain civil rights, thisdecree violated a number of articles of the first chapter of theRussian Constitution. The decree was so "illiterate"from the legal viewpoint that any student of a faculty of lawwould notice the legal flaws it contained. Experts could not helpasking questions: How would such a decree have escaped the attentiveeye of Professor Baturin who at that time had served as the president’sadvisor for legal issues? As it turned out it was not until thedecree was published that Mr. Baturin was able to see it. Thisvery important document was drafted by Senior Deputy InteriorMinistry, Chief of Police Yegorov. Aleksandr Korzhakov deliveredthe draft directly to the president. The president signed thedocument without hesitation.

The question which suggests itself in this connection is: Whyhire professional lawyers to work in the president’s team if presidentialdecrees can be drafted by police officers? As a matter of fact,Mr. Baturin is himself unable to clearly state what else besidedrafting conceptions, schemes and doctrines (which nobody needs)lies within his sphere of competence and what is beyond it. Incidentally,after the shameful failures which the Russian secret servicessustained in Chechnya, in Budennovsk and in the Dagestani settlementof Pervomaiskoye any discussion of a "national security doctrine"is completely out of place. Certainly, it is the big bosses, notthe "petty underling" Baturin, that are responsiblefor these defeats. However, the question arises: For what thenMr. Baturin is paid his wages? He is paid a bit more that 2 millionrubles per month. Not a very large sum but still more than manycivil servants get at least do something. Besides, Mr. Baturinenjoys free meals at the Kremlin restaurant, various free services,a state dacha, office car and other "trifles" whichmere mortals have no access to.

This problem is not that solely of Mr. Baturin. His talented colleaguesare also not being used for their primary purpose.

When the State Duma adopted a resolution granting political amnestyto the State of Emergency Committee members and to those who defendedthe White House on October 4, 1993 (Khasbulatov, Rutskoi, Anpilovand others) Yuri Baturin and his colleague Georgy Satarov wereordered to do everything possible to disrupt the implementationof the resolution and to portray it as a completely illegal act(giving this order the higher-ups did not even consider the factthat Mr. Satarov was not a lawyer, but a sociologist). Yuri Baturinand Georgy Satarov obediently began to implement this awkwardorder. But the Prosecutor’s Office could not have refused to complywith the State Duma’s decision. According to the Constitutionthe parliament has the right to grant amnesty to anybody whilethe vigorous attempts of the "intellectual courtiers"to prove that what the Duma had granted was not an "amnesty"but a "pardoning" (which the Duma is not authorizedto issue) caused nothing but skeptical smiles even in Yeltsin’smost devoted cohorts. Moreover, shortly afterwards it came tolight that the scandalous amnesty resolution was a result of asecret agreement between Boris Yeltsin and Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin.So it turned out that Baturin and Satarov were used as a "smokescreen" and were deliberately made fools of.

When the Chechen war began with Russian aviation massively bombingthe towns and settlements of the republic, Russian artilleristsused "GRAD" missile launchers to exterminate civilianstogether with the fighters. All that was confirmed by eyewitnessesand broadcast on television. The Kremlin rulers had again to addresstheir "devoted intellectuals" ordering them to denythe obvious facts. For the sake of fairness it has to be notedhere that the brightest Kremlin intellectual, Yuri Baturin, didnot take part in this shameful tragicomedy. However, sociologistsGeorgy Satarov and Mark Urnov, lawyer Mikhail Krasnov (incidentally,it was Krasnov who replaced Baturin in the post of president’sadvisor for legal issues), geographer Leonid Smirnyagin and Yeltsin’spress secretary and fiction-writer Vyacheslav Kostikov (all ofthem are very far from being military experts) demonstrated pretendedknowledge while discoursing on the caliber of artillery shellsand "high-precision" air strikes…

Georgy Satarov, who at one time became famous as the founder ofthe "INDEM" (Information for Democracy) sociologicalfoundation, suddenly transformed into a militant patriot. It washe who had first proposed to invite the popular (in certain circles)television commentator Aleksandr Nevzorov (active fighter againstthe regime, the man who had at one time praised the State of EmergencyCommittee and who openly expressed his sympathy for the Russianneo-fascists) to provide an ideological justification for theChechen war. The Chechen war helped to put everything in its properplace. In fact, this war became the last straw which caused thedemocrats to shift from supporting the president to condemninghim with fury and indignation. The most loyal supporters of BorisYeltsin began to drift towards irreconcilable opposition. A massexodus of intellectuals from the Presidential Council and other(in fact, purely decorative state structures, like the Commissionon Human Rights) had begun.

In this situation, the Kremlin intellectuals (who had not onlycontinued to carry out their duties and not only turned a blindeye to the outrages committed by the ruling elite, but even triedto justify them) were labeled as "odious" figures bytheir former associates, friends and allies, i.e., those who hadat one time helped them enter the Kremlin.

Certainly, these intellectuals could not have prevented the rulersfrom pursuing this policy, however, they could have at least dissociatedthemselves from these moves. Only one of them, ethnic relationsexpert Emil Pain, who understood better that others that the Chechenwar was dangerous (not for nothing had he studied ethnic conflictson the territory of the former USSR), had once timidly noted thathe would probably apply for resignation. He did not resign, butremained having reconciled himself with the course. At present,Mr. Pain is a member of yet another senseless and useless commissionon Chechen regulation where (as it has always been) he decidesnothing.

However, Mr. Pain was at least hesitant. The rest did not eventry to object. They were afraid to lose their cushy positions.

But what’s the use? What have the intellectuals hired by Mr. Yeltsinmanaged to achieve? No one has made use of their brains and theirknowledge. The work of sociologists Urnov and Satarov has boileddown to making some "rather simple" statistical manipulationsto present any election or poll results as a distinguished accomplishmentof the authorities. Aleksandr Livshits, the author of a numberof publications on macroeconomics, has taken the lead in the nationwidecampaign to pay the withheld wages to employees and spends allhis time beating the money out of the mediocre officials.

All of them have become just ordinary state officials. Moreover,they are not too heaveily burdened with routine bureaucratic work.In private, Mr. Baturin and his colleague Mr. Krasnov confessedthat they have almost nothing to fill their work hours with andthat the most important presidential decrees are not shown tothem. They have almost no access to Boris Yeltsin. They are treatedwith hostility by their "neighbors" from the guardsservices. Moreover, forgetting their "corporate solidarity"they indulge in intrigues against one another. Why have they chosenthis lot, for what have they sacrificed their scientific, politicaland personal reputations? In their public speeches or at pressconferences they usually say that they try to influence the president(with whom they practically have no touch), that if they withdrawtheir things will turn out even worse and that they sacrificethemselves for the sake of democracy.

In a private conversation Yuri Baturin was much more frank. "Whyleave if you have sunk head over heels in this crap? Now it isimpossible to save my reputation. In fact, he who cares for hisreputation should not take office in the state service. As faras I am concerned, as a scientist specializing in political modelingtechnologies I am interested in watching this mechanism from theinside. To the extent of my abilities I try to adjust this mechanismand to make it develop in the right direction. This is an extremelyexciting work. When it all ends I will return home and write memoirs.I have seen much and I know a lot. I will not lack material formemoirs!"

Georgy Satarov, Mark Urnov and others of their ilk view thingsin almost the same. So we have come to a solution of the puzzle.Even being in the vicinity of power can provide one with an unforgettablegratification. To tell the truth, there is a whiff of perversion:You do not enjoy it yourself but only watch the others enjoyingit. In terms of sex this is called "voyeurism" (or peeping).This pleasure is not accessible to everyone, however. It appearsthat he who loves to "watch power from the inside" willnever give up the drug. He naively believes (or is just tryingto convince the public of it?) that they can "adjust"something or "make it develop in the right direction."

To a certain extent such persons deserve pity. Baturin and his"brothers by intellect" have made guinea pigs of themselvesto test what will happen to a reasonable person if he is throwninto the bowels of the apparatus. This reminds me of the exploitof Dr. Kokh who infected himself with a TB microbe to test hisinvention. However, the Kremlin experimentalists do not risk theirown physical or mental health. The "object" of theirexperiments is the fate of the millions of people who are beingused as guinea pigs. It is over these millions of people thatthe "scalpel" held in the cool and cynical hands ofthese vivisectious prodigies is hanging while they collect materialfor their future fascinating memoirs.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky