Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Is It Power or Principle?

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Is It Power or Principle?

Article excerpt

A Footnote on the Talbott Doctrine

As long as there are reformers in the Russian Federation and the other states leading the journey toward democracy's horizon, our strategy must be to support them. And our place must be at their side.

--President Bill Clinton, May 1993

Much has been written about the Clinton administration's excessive focus on Boris Yeltsin at the expense of other democratic figures in Russia.(1) That policy has been attributed to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the brainy former journalist who, under a succession of different titles, is the government official de facto in charge of Clinton's policy toward Russia and the other post-Soviet countries.(2)

Although the practice of putting Yeltsin and his interests first seems to have created generous and debatably warranted U.S. support for former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his successors, there is doubt that this policy was also extended to the other democratic forces that ceased to dominate Russian politics in late 1993. Yeltsin tacitly supported Russia's Choice as the preferred party to win the December 1993 elections for the Duma and carry out the reform agenda that the late Supreme Soviet had stalled. However, the failure of Russia's Choice and other reform-oriented parties in that election forced Yeltsin to change his strategy, once again relying on Chernomyrdin, his emerging "Party of Power," the industrial-military complex, the armed forces, and the KGB--to the detriment of the legislature and Russian democracy.(3)

The leaders of the Democratic Russia Movement, the coalition that pressed Mikhail Gorbachev to annul the communist monopoly on power in February 1990, that launched Yeltsin into the Russian presidency in June 1991, and that then gave birth to the Russia's Choice party, believe that Strobe Talbott did not support them in that crucial hour of need in late 1993. Democratic Russia's copresidents believe they could have done better in that election with a modicum of American assistance, which they directly requested of Talbott. They are also frustrated that Talbott never explained why he willfully chose to ignore them during that fateful election, which went to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. As I will later show, several American and Russian experts agree with Democratic Russia that the outcome of the election could have been different.

In this article I seek, first, to bring to light an incident that is indicative of an overall policy, and second, to cast doubt on the widely held assumption that Russia's Choice and Democratic Russia were overly complacent in campaigning for first Duma elections in late 1993.

Democratic Russia and its friends and supporters had devised a plan that many experts recognize could have changed the outcome of the 1993 elections. The plan was simple: an endorsement from two foreign actresses who enjoyed massive popular appeal in Russia at that time--Mexican soap opera stars Veronica Castro and Victoria Ruffo. Their soap operas The Rich Also Cry and Simply Maria were dubbed into Russian and provoked a phenomenon the Guardian termed "Castromania." "It is hard to exaggerate the fervour" of their following.(4) The New York Times called it "a kind of awe."(5) The Houston Chronicle called it "an adoring frenzy" and "a head-over-heels love affair," adding that "finding a Russian who is not addicted to the Mexican drama is as hard as finding a capitalist in the Kremlin during the Cold War."(6) Even Pravda's headlines beamed with approving expectation before Castro visited Russia.(7) About two hundred thousand people waited at or near the airport in Moscow for her arrival at the end of 1992, causing "as much stir as if the Virgin Mary herself had descended from an aircraft."(8) Both audience and performers at the Bolshoi went into an autograph-seeking frenzy when they discovered that Castro was among them. …

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