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June 15, 1992
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 38
Interview: Boris Yeltzin, President of the Russian Federation

We Have Not Been Schooled for Reform

In your opinion, what is the main result of your first year of presidency?

Yeltzin: The first year hasn't been easy. The number of events is what one could, in more normal times, expect in the course of a whole presidential mandate. However, most important is that real, and not just verbal, economic reforms have begun. This is particularly important if you have in mind the poor stereotypes in politics which appeared in the last years of perestroika... By determining the global priorities of the modern world, the political leaders of the country have been unimaginably shortsighted with regards to the basic needs of the country... They tried to join what cannot be joined: a totalitarian political structure and democracy, the power to command everyone and everything in a free market system. This was possible only in speeches, in demagogy, but not in real life. This resulted in our losing a number of years, squandering the energy of a million people and bringing the country close to total collapse. For this reason I consider it most important that we have somehow managed to overcome the avalanche of unproductive talk and begin on practical reform... The watershed in this difficult job, in my opinion, was August 1991 when we succeeded in preventing a putsch of conservative forces... I repeat that the year was very complex and we haven't succeeded in everything. We were never particularly well schooled in making reforms, especially in a country as unique as Russia. However, the determination to do so, forgetting the problems of the first few months, is still very much alive. We won't give up. This could be the last chance for Russia.

And another thing. The very difficult economic reforms and formation of institutions of government are taking place in conditions of civil peace. In a multinational, federal state we are succeeding in avoiding conflicts on the basis of nationality.

The country has entered a period of real economic reforms. Who and what hinders their realization?

I would first speak of "what", and not "who". The main hindrance is that we inherited a totally run down social system, in all senses of the word... Due to the fact that for a long time there were no market realities in Russia, it was inevitable that their institution had to start from zero. We have to go through what our country has already gone through, to win back what 60-70 years ago was set alight by red-hot iron. Because of this it is not strange that what is new today is born in monstrous and unbearable forms which carry criminal shades. This also significantly holds back progress.

Today we are extremely short of experts in all fields adapted to the market... The fragility of the Russian statehood hampers the reforms... The state institutions of Russia were formed by necessity, full of contradictions. They have remained branches of the party-state machinery of the past, and at the same time they have elements of the new post-Communist Russia.

Today this division is impossible, it literally blocks reform in strategic directions. This was clear at the Sixth Congress of MPs. I will never agree that it reflects the specter of opinions and interests of modern Russia. Most of the MPs still defend the previous totalitarian system and its direct product - a state controlled economy. This situation appears on all levels of government...

There are other difficulties, but, globally speaking, they are controllable because they can't reject reforms, only hamper their implementation. The country cannot return to its cell.

What are your prognoses for the coming years? When do you expect the first results of the economic reforms? When will Russia take a breather from its mortal difficulties?

That's a very important question. It is extremely hard to live in Russia today, especially for those employed in the so-called budget spheres, those who receive pensions, benefits, stipends, i.e. those with a fixed income. A certain number of these people are literally very poor...

This is why we were unable to avoid softening the reforms at the expense of certain dynamics. We cannot accept the demands of the International Monetary Fund primarily because it could seriously undermine the economic reform itself. This also applies to the free setting of energy prices. We cannot blindly adhere.

We must not, under any circumstances, exceed the limit of fall in standard of living if we want to avoid destructive social and political consequences. I categorically reject the statement that everyone isn't able to survive the move to a market economy and that harm is unavoidable...

Our fundamental task is to halt the fall in production by the end of the year. In this way we will avoid the lowest point of descent. A basic condition in achieving this goal is the maintenance of social stability.

Russia has proclaimed itself the legal heir to the USSR. How has this reflected on the foreign policy of the government?

To be precise, Russia has not proclaimed itself the legal heir to the USSR. It would not be all right if only Russia took over the legal inheritance because the Union was a federal state.

In December last year, when the Federation crossed the final line, the problem of the legal continuity of its obligations towards the world community and partner states arose. It was for this reason that we announced that Russia would take over the responsibility of the Union for previously concluded contracts, agreements etc. There is not one of the former republics of the Union that could accept this responsibility entirely. Russia is deeply aware what a vacuum in this sphere could mean...

Our country considers it its responsibility to carry on the positive changes in the foreign policy of the USSR which were begun in the last few years....

Russia has rejected the conception of confrontation, division of the world into itself and others according to ideological principles. The main result of the first months of Russian foreign policy is, in my opinion, that the international community has more and more faith in Russia. It no longer sees in us a totalitarian monster, but a state which, with enormous effort, has set off into normal civilized life, and it has its support. And this is not because we "sold" ourselves to the West but because the modern world understands that a country of this size must become democratically and economically developed as soon as possible. Without this, Russia would be a threat to world stability.

The West is concerned about the possible break up of the former Soviet nuclear potential. How justified is this fear?

There are serious reasons for the spread of nuclear arms, including Soviet, to be kept under constant international control. Naturally, none of the nuclear states has gone through such global changes as the former Soviet Union, so that the existing concern is understandable. It is impermissible for nuclear arms to be used as an object of any kind of political game. And even more so to create conditions for solving their own problems with such weapons. On the contrary, the time has come to think about international mechanisms which would make it politically unfavorable to have nuclear weapons on the territory of a state.

It is in place to repeat that the reduction of nuclear weapons is essential to solving this problem. This means that they shouldn't be deployed in order for the nuclear potential of Russia to increase at the expense of the Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Byelorussia, but that they should be reduced on mutual agreement. This principle is accepted by Russia, the USA and our partners in the Alliance of Independent States The less weapons there are, the easier it is to ensure their absolute control...

Business circles in the West are still not ready to risk major investment in the Russian economy, basing this on the absence of firm legal guarantees on the part of the Russian Federation.

I can understand this concern. Foreign investors, like Russian, have reason to talk of the need for greater protection of their legal interests primarily from the instability of current legislation. The legal basis, as it exists today still, does not provide legal guarantee to foreign investors because in force are a large number of regulations and rules which exclude each other. Also of great harm are the bureaucratic degeneracy of existing legislation and the willfulness of civil servants. Naturally, this cannot be overcome at once, but we have begun work in this direction...

Of utmost importance to us is a maximum development of private ownership in Russia, land included. It must be said openly that the resistance to this is great, but I am convinced that the realization of this task is close at hand...

Can one speak of a Yeltzin style of presidency? Have your character, principles and way of life changed in the course of this year of your presidency?

The questions you ask me are covered by our press. A lot is written about the president's style, describing its virtues and faults. Probably it can be seen better from the side. But I cannot agree with all that is written.

For example, Yeltzin's unpredictability is often emphasized. Most often the implications are that this or that decision has been made unexpectedly, without being worked out thoroughly, without analysis of the consequences, etc. I don't think this is so.

Every presidential decree and order is prepared thoroughly. They are worked on by a number of people, independent of each other...

But if you want to know my opinion about unpredictability, it is this: every politician, especially working under conditions of crisis and cardinal change, has to through out stereotypes and clichés. An unusual situation demands unusual solutions, and maximal flexibility. If you like, call it unpredictability, though I don't think the term is the happiest.

Regarding style as a whole, of course it has changed. When working in the Sverdlovsk region, and even in the Moscow Committee, they talked about Yeltzin's harshly authoritarian style. There was some truth in this. In the years of disfavor, and those following my return to politics, much of this was thrown away and remained in the past. A lot that was new was learned, but I try today to retain that which I consider to be of utmost importance to my work: to be on the ready, to try the hardest to get into the essence of a problem, to find subtle and clear solutions. I think it is extremely important to be in constant contact with experts, to engage people who best understand a problem.

Of course, this has been a special year. It hasn't been much more than very hard work. Nonetheless, I think it has been used to the best. There is dissatisfaction, and not only a little, because of the course the reforms have taken. Life is now set only towards them in order to bring about realistic results in the transformation of Russia. All else is secondary.

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