Kosovo War Hits Russian Liberals

By David Hoffman, Washington Post, Monday 17 May 1999; Page A11

MOSCOW, May 16 — Anatoly Chubais, architect of Russia's privatization who is one of the most consistently pro-Western voices here, says the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia have badly damaged Russia's liberal political forces.

“I have not in all my life seen such a scale of anti-American, anti-Western sentiments as exist in Russia today,” Chubais said in an interview before his departure on a visit to the United States, including Washington. The airstrikes are “rejected not simply by the Russian Foreign Ministry, or political leaders of Russia. It is categorically rejected by the people.”

Chubais, who now heads Unified Energy Systems, a huge electrical holding company, suggested that the Western bombardment of Yugoslavia will cost liberal parties support in the December parliamentary election and help those who are opposed to economic liberalization.

“Inside the Russian political spectrum, the effect of this strike is very selective, in the sense that it hit the liberal forces the hardest,” he said. The Communists and nationalists “could not even have imagined a present of this scale.”

Chubais spoke before the weekend vote in which the Communist-dominated lower house of parliament failed to impeach President Boris Yeltsin, and before Yeltsin dismissed the government headed by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Chubais, one of the longest serving of the Yeltsin-era reformers and also one of the least popular, is a close ally of former prime minister Yegor Gaidar and others who have formed a loose coalition of liberal political forces known as Right Cause.

Even before the Yugoslav airstrikes, Russian liberals were in serious trouble, their political standing badly hurt by the economic upheaval of recent years.

“The West committed a large-scale political mistake, and I think that this mistake is the largest since World War II,” Chubais said of the bombings. “What were the goals? To undermine the legitimacy of the political regime of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic? The result is directly the opposite. To stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo? The result is directly opposite.”

Chubais, who has long been an influential voice on Russian economic affairs with Western policymakers, said the war had not wrecked Russian-American relations, but “there is damage, and it is very big, it is not short-term, but long-term serious damage and it must be overcome.”

He said he shares the Western view of Milosevic, but the bombings have made it difficult to even talk about the Serbian atrocities in Russia today.

“As long as the bombing is not stopped, it makes no sense to talk about anything,” he said. “Any political leader in Russia who voices his support for NATO bombings is becoming marginal.”