Is Russia headed toward a new era of authoritarian rule at home
and expansionist designs abroad?
To Yuri Afanasyev, the historian who helped Boris Yeltsin
engineer the peaceful collapse of the old Soviet Union, the
question misses the point.
"These kind of people," he says, "have power already."
Yeltsin's government has imposed its will, militarily or
economically, in almost every former Soviet republic, Afanasyev
notes, from Moldova in the far southwest through the Caucasus to
Central Asia. Russia has blocked eastern European countries from
membership in NATO.
At home, Russia has pursued sham economic reforms, erecting a
facade of privatization and free prices. Real power remains, as
always, in the hands of Moscow bureaucrats, army generals and the
"red directors" of the big state enterprises.
The only mystery, to Afanasyev, is why U.S. officials and most
of western Europe don't understand what has happened. "The West is
trying to describe the situation they would like, not the real
situation as it is," he said.
Afanasyev, a stocky, square-jawed specialist in French
historiography, is president of the Russian State University for
the Humanities. Five years ago he was one of three leaders of the
pro-democracy faction in the First Congress of People's Deputies
that pressed Mikhail S. Gorbachev to speed political reforms. His
co-chairs: Boris Yeltsin and Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov.
Only Yeltsin is left.
Sakharov died in December 1989, too soon to witness the
collapse of the Soviet Union and Yeltsin's ascension to the
presidency of Russia.
Afanasyev abandoned politics and returned to the university -
unwilling, he says, "to participate in this nightmare of what
Yeltsin and the so-called democrats have done."
By "nightmare," Afanasyev means, first, the charade of economic
Despite some steps toward privatization in 1992, the big
enterprises still depend on Russia's central bank for operating
credits. Monopolists with close government ties control most of the
kiosks and private shops that have sprung up in Moscow and other
big cities, he said.
"On the whole, it's the same planned economy as before . . .
Its essence is the same because it remains an operation in the
hands of the state."
The second point in Afanasyev's indictment is that, in many
ways, the old legal system persists.
He cites the ongoing trial of Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist accused
of revealing state secrets in an article he wrote alleging that
Russia was testing chemical weapons. …