Christian Caryl

Stories by Christian Caryl

  • Don't Believe The Spin

    Visiting Moscow a few weeks ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell started off a working meeting with a champagne toast. His counterpart, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, joined in. Have the United States and Russia reconciled their bitter differences over Iraq? That's certainly the line being pushed by diplomatic spinmeisters in Washington and Moscow. Russia recently backed U.S. efforts to lift sanctions against Iraq in the U.N. Security Council. The Bushies returned the favor by telling anyone who would listen that Vladimir Putin remains far more popular in the White House than either of his friends from France and Germany. Then came last weekend's chummy encounter in St. Petersburg, followed by more schmoozing in Evian.Whoa. For all the nice noises, the much-touted "strategic partnership" between Washington and Moscow has suffered serious damage. Gone are the cozy days of yore, when George W. Bush and "Vladimir" looked into each other's eyes and spoke of religion. If the war in Iraq...
  • Going Nowhere Fast

    David Satter is profoundly disillusioned with post-Soviet Russia. Actually, that's putting it mildly; his new book, "Darkness at Dawn" (352 pages. Yale University Press), paints about as abject a picture as I've seen of the corruption, cronyism, lawlessness and incompetence that have flourished under Boris Yeltsin and his handpicked successor, Vladimir Putin. In one example, Satter, a former Financial Times correspondent in Moscow, takes us inside a police station on an ordinary workday to show how powerless Russians are against the law. He describes the case of V., a Muscovite thrown into the "monkey cage" for no other reason than to satisfy the arresting officer's desire to collect a bribe. "You resemble a wanted rapist," says the officer, "and we've got a wagonload of cooperative witnesses." V. refuses to pay the bribe and ends up spending the night, listening as other officers shake down detainees and conduct negotiations "about payoffs with the relatives of arrested persons....
  • A Frosty Friendship

    Vladislav Achalov has only good things to say about Saddam Hussein. He is a "strong man," he says, "fighting for his country." A former deputy Defense minister in the U.S.S.R., Achalov met Saddam "several times" during his frequent visits to Baghdad, most recently last April at the Iraqi dictator's lavish birthday celebrations in Tikrit. Russian journalists have seized on the relationship to ask whether Achalov and other retired Russian generals provided military advice to Baghdad in the war. Achalov denies it--but admits that the Russian brass often went to Iraq. "We didn't spend all that time talking about women," he adds with a grin.Moscow and Washington insist they're eager to bury the hatchet and revitalize the "strategic partnership" forged after September 11. But the job seems to be getting more difficult by the day. Shortly after the beginning of the war, the United States publicized Russian arms sales to the Iraqis--from GPS jammers designed to interfere with American...
  • The Moscow Connection: From Russia With Love

    The U.S.-Russia relationship has always had its tricky moments. But things have begun to look a lot trickier since Washington accused Russian companies of supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons that could kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Just days after the start of its invasion, Washington threatened to level sanctions against three Russian companies for arming the Iraqis in defiance of U.N. rules.Washington and Moscow are already at loggerheads over Iraq. Russia sided with France in vowing to veto a second U.N. resolution authorizing force against Saddam. Last week President Vladimir Putin called for an immediate end to the war, and he is likely to join France in demanding a future Security Council resolution putting the United Nations in charge of the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, rather than a civil administration headed by the United States and Britain. Washington and Moscow still have plenty of reasons to preserve the makeshift alliance they forged in the wake of 9-11. (They range...
  • Damaged Relations

    The U.S. government accuses Stanislav Aderin's company of supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein's army.Aderin, a senior executive at the Russian arms contractor KBP Instrument Design Bureau, hotly dismisses the allegations--with a somewhat discomfiting argument. "If our missiles were being used in Iraq, the American losses would be a lot higher," says Aderin huffily. "But since the American casualties are so light, I assume that our products aren't there."The Pentagon begs to differ. U.S. military sources recently revealed that several U.S. armored vehicles--including two Abrams M1A1 tanks--were knocked out by KBP-designed Kornet missiles in fighting around the Iraqi city of Najaf. That revelation came just days after the United States claimed that yet more Russian companies had supplied the Iraqis with other sensitive weapons. The talk was of night-vision goggles and sophisticated jammers that could interfere with the satellite-navigation systems relied upon by American high-tech...
  • Balancing Act

    George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin lately have been spending a lot of time on the phone with each other.In one of their most recent exchanges--soon after the U.S. president's Tuesday announcement that he was ending diplomatic efforts to solve the Iraq crisis--the Russian leader repeated his reasons for opposing military action. But he sent another message too: it was time, he said, for the two countries to resolve their differences and get back to business.That ambivalence was underscored further today. Putin reacted strongly to last night's attacks on Baghdad, saying that only Iraqis should decide whether they wanted a regime change and that "nothing can justify this military action." Soon after that, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who has been notable for the harshness of some of his recent statements, adopted a more conciliatory note. "We remain partners, not opponents," he said. "And we must continue dialogue with the United States so that the war does not bring negative...
  • The Battle Of The Presses

    The report on Russian TV last week didn't mince words or images. First, American actor Martin Sheen warned of a return to McCarthyism and an incipient "witch hunt" against anyone who dared criticize the Bush administration's war plans for Iraq. Then police were shown cracking down on university students staging a peaceful antiwar demonstration in New York. And just in case the message wasn't clear, a crawl along the bottom of the screen underscored it: Phil Donahue fired from TV for antiwar stance.It's not quite a return to the cold war, but Russian media coverage of U.S. policy on Iraq these days is rife with misinformation. After Secretary of State Colin Powell waved a small, empty vial during his recent presentation on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the U.N. Security Council, one state-owned Russian network dramatically "revealed"--in classic Soviet fashion--that the bottle actually hadn't contained any anthrax. (Powell never claimed it had; he was merely showing how little...
  • Chechnya: The Official Story

    Our small group of journalists sat on benches in a huge, empty hangar draped with Russian military banners, listening as two high-ranking officers in green camouflage gave us a situation report on the rebellious republic of Chechnya. We had come to the Chechen capital of Grozny on a special three-day tour staged by the Russian government, and now our hosts were delivering the messages they wanted us to take back home. The situation in Chechnya, they assured us, was characterized by "normalization and stabilization." Most Chechens, they said, approved of Moscow's attempts to restore "law and order" and postwar reconstruction was moving ahead. Most important, the Chechen "bandits and terrorists" who opposed the Russian forces had all but ceased their fight--one or two mine explosions a day, no more. We weren't sure we understood correctly, so we asked straight out. The war in Chechnya is over? Yes, came the official response. "No question about it."It's one thing to be in Moscow,...
  • Shipping: Just Missing The Boat

    Figuring out where the Prestige, a single-hull oil tanker that sank Nov. 19 off the northwest coast of Spain, originated isn't easy. The tanker was captained by a Greek, crewed by Filipinos and Romanians, owned by a Liberian-registered company, chartered by a Swiss-based Russian commodities trader and flew the Bahamian flag. Pinpointing what caused it to sink--and who's responsible--is even tougher. Fingers are pointing all over, but there is one thing that everybody agrees on: it could've been avoided. "The frustrating thing," says Michael Voogel, secretary of Paris MOU, an international shipping operation in the Netherlands, "is that we have the laws on paper that could have prevented this, but they don't come into effect until July." In 1999, when the Maltese oil tanker Erika split near Brittany and spread 20,000 tons of oil along the French coast, the European Union called for a number of stiff regulations, ultimately passing measures for increased, rigorous inspections of older...
  • Russia

    Hans Wilhelm Steinfeld, a journalist for Norwegian TV, has lived in Russia for two decades. He's had his share of run-ins with the authorities over the years, but what happened last week was a novelty even for him. He had just finished reporting a story on refugees from the war in Chechnya when agents of the Russian security service confiscated his videotapes and wiped them clean with a high-powered magnet. "This is the first time I've ever seen them actually destroy journalistic material," says Steinfeld, who notes that the incident drew formal protests from the Norwegian government--and that other foreign reporters have been having similar experiences.A few years ago, such ham-handed treatment of Western journalists would have been dismissed as an eccentric blast from the Soviet past. These days, though, it's part of a trend in Russia--an accelerating return to authoritarianism that got a big boost during last month's crisis in a Moscow theater. The assault by Russian Special...
  • Under The Jackboot

    It was the kind of story that people in Chechnya know only too well. In the deep of night, Russian troops clad in camouflage uniforms and masks surrounded the village of Krasnostepnovskoye. After a brutal search for presumed rebels, they detained six men, 32 to 44 years old, blindfolded them and loaded them into an armored personnel carrier. The missing men turned up four months later--in a mass grave on the border with neighboring Ingushetia, uncovered in early September. The tip-off came from the soldiers who had done the killing. They charged the villagers a hefty fee for telling them where to find the corpses.The episode, documented by the Russian human-rights organization Memorial, testifies to the savagery and cynicism of the Chechen war. The West may studiously wish it away, as would President Vladimir Putin, who long ago declared the three-year conflict to be over. But it's not. If anything, the ham-handed tactics of the Russian Army--especially the so-called "mopping-up"...
  • Russia: Is Putin Looking To Expand The Chechnya W

    Will Vladimir Putin make a pre-emptive strike of his own? In Moscow, rumors are swirling of an impending Russian military move against Georgia. A source close to the Russian General Staff has told NEWSWEEK that military leaders have completed planning for an assault on the Pankisi Gorge, a remote canyon that has been used as a hideout by rebels from neighboring Chechnya. Other sources say that Russian officers have already been issued tactical maps for use in the operation. The Russians and Georgians have been at loggerheads over the canyon hideout for months. Moscow accuses Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze of giving shelter to terrorists; the Georgians complain about Russian incursions into their airspace. Last month Putin sent a note to the U.N. Security Council--couched in terms that conspicuously resembled President George W. Bush's arguments for an attack on Iraq--warning that Russia might have to make use of its right to self-defense if the Georgians didn't act against the...
  • Fall Arts Preview: Gergiev Goes Global

    Sitting behind the desk in his St. Petersburg office, Valery Gergiev is talking about travel again. "Ah, Air France," he says, brandishing the latest addition to his collection of frequent-flier cards. "They brought it yesterday, but I haven't had a chance to use it yet." Have no fear--he will. The 49-year-old director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, usually known by its Soviet-era name, the Kirov Opera and Ballet, is a man in perpetual motion. In the next month he is scheduled to conduct more than a dozen concerts from Budapest to Paris, from Munich to Los Angeles. Later in the season he'll turn up in New York, where he is principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, and in Rotterdam, where he's principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic.It's a typically frenetic schedule for the 49-year-old maestro with the wild combover. In his 14 years as chief conductor and artistic director of the Mariinsky, Gergiev has earned a reputation as a brilliant interpreter...
  • Sleeping With The Enemy

    It wasn't exactly your ordinary business trip. The first thing the Russian executive saw as he walked off the plane in Baghdad last month was a slogan emblazoned on the floor of the jetway: DOWN WITH THE U.S.! Later, when Yevgeny and his colleagues reached their work site, they heard the distant thump of bombs from a U.S. airstrike. That was in An Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, where Yevgeny's company has been building an 800-megawatt power station. Working in Iraq has its quirks, Yevgeny says, refusing to give his last name, but he insists that's no reason to ignore a potentially lucrative market. "We participate in tenders in Iraq all the time. It's all in strict conformity with United Nations rules."Business as usual? Lately, Russia isn't just continuing its tradition of schmoozing with rogue states around the world. It's actually stepping up relations with several of them. As if in conscious response to George W. Bush's diatribes against an "Axis of Evil," Russia has forged its...
  • Prayers Vs. Realpolitik

    For Russia's million or so Buddhists, it was to be an occasion of a lifetime. Their revered spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was set to visit on Sept. 9. Then came a shocker. For reasons not fully clear, the Russian Foreign Ministry reversed earlier assurances and, last week, told His Holiness to stay home. With that, the country's Buddhists found themselves back on the losing side of yet another fierce Russian tug of war between politics and religion.That they've survived at all is just shy of a miracle. At the start of the Bolshevik regime, there were about 15,000 Buddhist monks in Russia; by 1940, after Stalin's terror, almost none were left. Today, temples can be found from St. Petersburg to the Far East, and monasteries are bursting with recruits. Their thriving community is led by a growing coalition of intellectual converts, as well as politicians and religious figures from three traditionally Buddhist provinces, Buryatiya and Tuva in Siberia and Kalmykia in the Caucusus-...
  • Trouble Next Door

    It's been three years since her husband disappeared, and Irina Krasovskaya has told the story over and over again. But there are still moments when she can't quite hold back the tears. She lives in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, where key members of the political opposition to President Aleksandr Lukashenko have vanished without a trace. Her husband, Anatoly, a prominent businessman, counts among them. He was last seen one night in 1999, when he shared a car ride with Viktor Gonchar, a political rival to Lukashenko. Neither man has been heard of since, though former prosecutors cite evidence of a death squad linked to the president's regime.Talking about the "disappeared" of Belarus can be dangerous. Last September the notoriously repressive Lukashenko won another five-year term as supreme leader, and lately he's been threatening moves that would allow him to stay even longer. He's been helped by the fact that the outside world pays scant attention. But that may be about to...
  • Cleaning Up The Game

    For Oleg Deripaska, life divides neatly into before and after, and the line that separates them is the rise to power of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three years ago Deripaska was just another obscure businessman, slugging it out in Russia's lucrative and brutal aluminum industry. In the bleak Siberian towns where the metal is produced, contract killings were the order of the day. Most foreign investors were smart enough to keep their distance.These days Deripaska, an early supporter of Putin's candidacy, controls no less than 70 percent of the Russian aluminum industry. But his net worth--rumored to be well over $1 billion--isn't the only thing that's changed about him in the Putin era. Most of his Siberian allies and enemies have been left by the wayside, and he's trying to wash away the taint of the past by adopting Western accounting standards and business practices (the kind they teach in books, not those exposed at companies like Enron and WorldCom). He's hired new...
  • From Leningrad To St. Petersburg

    When Vladimir Putin last visited the United States, George W. Bush took pride in showing him around his Texas ranch. This time around, it's the Russian leader who's going to be showing off his hometown: St. Petersburg.And if the American president pays close attention, the city could offer him some valuable insights into the intricacies of Russian politics.The trip to St. Petersburg is supposed to be more pleasure than business. After visiting Moscow to discuss issues of substance, Bush's weekend visit to the elegant city that residents like to call the Venice of the North will take in mostly cultural stops. There'll also be a meeting with university students--a reprise of the Bush-Putin visit to the Crawford High School near Bush's ranch last November. But what Bush should really look out for is the way in which Putin's rise to the pinnacle of his country's power has transformed St. Petersburg into Russia's unofficial epicenter.St. Petersburg, of course, is no stranger to power....
  • All That Glitters

    Three years ago, British Petroleum retreated from Russia. In the wild and woolly days of post-communist euphoria, it had invested $480 million in a Siberian producer called Sidanco with rights to 2 billion barrels' worth of oil reserves. In short order it lost nearly half its money through a financial sleight of hand of the sort that has long made multinationals wary of doing business in the country. But now BP is back. Just last month it invested $375 million for an even larger stake in the very company that burned it. "Sidanco is a company that we know extremely well, and it's now a profitable company," says a BP official. "It's an ideal vehicle to get more involved in Russia."What's changed? From BP's perspective, everything--and not just boom times in the international oil markets. "There is a general feeling of confidence in Russia," says the BP official. For when it comes to Russia these days, it's easy to be an optimist. While Europe and the United States stalled out in...
  • PUTIN'S NEXT TEST

    Boris Berezovsky is working hard. The man who once was Russia's most powerful business tycoon and political kingmaker lives in London, exiled under a cloud of growing criminal investigations. Yet he's doing his best to stay a player. Recently he told one French newspaper that he would "struggle to the death" against his former political protege, Vladimir Putin. And last week he delivered what he clearly hoped would be a body blow to the Russian president, launching a TV documentary alleging that the Russian security service, the FSB, staged a spate of bombings in Moscow and other cities, which claimed 300 lives in 1999.As every Russian knows, Putin blamed the atrocities on Chechen terrorists--and promptly launched a brutal military campaign to subdue them. If the president helped engineer the plot as a pretext for his crackdown, killing innocent Russians, wouldn't that be treason? Berezovsky poses the question bluntly, as he told NEWSWEEK in London. "Putin says the Chechens are...
  • BOOKS: HOW THE MIGHTY FELL

    Russia's oligarchs were outsiders who became the ultimate insiders. Some of them started off as furtive traders in contraband goods. A few years later they morphed into multimillionaires, emerging from their lavish villas and chauffeured Mercedeses to call the shots at the highest levels of government. Then came the punishment for their hubris. The economy collapsed and their former friends in high places turned against them. These days some of them are back on the outside, tasting the bitter fruits of exile.In terms of sheer drama, it's an irresistible tale, and David Hoffman's new book, "The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia" (564 pages. PublicAffairs), milks it for all it's worth. He's right to do so. You just can't tell the story of how Russia staggered from the centrally planned command economy to the imperfectly market-driven business world of today without dwelling on the exemplary fate of characters like Alexander Smolensky. As Hoffman (full disclosure: a former...
  • St. Petersburg's Revenge

    "The Russian Ark" may just be one of the craziest movies ever made. It was set entirely in the famed Hermitage art museum, with hundreds of period-costumed actors romping through three centuries of Russian history. But the real madness in its method is that its director, Aleksandr Sokurov, filmed the whole one-hour-and-28-minute extravaganza in a single take on an HDTV digital camera. No cuts, no edits. It's the first time anyone has shot a feature movie in one breath, says Sokurov. "We just kept on going."It's scarcely an accident that he did it in St. Petersburg. Not so long ago, no one in Russia would have tried such a stunt, with or without the Kremlin's permission. But suddenly the former tsarist capital is bursting with unaccustomed pride and confidence. Next year will mark the 300th anniversary of its founding by Peter the Great, and Russia's most beautiful city is already preening for the occasion. The economy is finally showing signs of recovery after decades of decay and...
  • The Ways Of A Warlord

    Like most Afghans toting assault rifles and grenade launchers, the men loitering beneath the walls of the mud-brick fort outside the northern town of Aliabad look like they're spoiling for a fight. But the turbaned warriors do little more than gawk when Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai rolls up. Baryalai, a hyperkinetic 38-year-old and one of Afghanistan's top-ranking military leaders, blows through the crowd while peppering their commander with queries, orders and the occasional joke. His real question: "How many people have you disarmed?" The commander mutters a reply. "Not enough," declares Baryalai. A pause. "OK, you can have that cotton for the men's beds, and I'll increase your cooking-oil ration. But you have to collect the rest of those guns by the end of the week. I'll be back on Saturday." ...
  • Plot Against Powell?

    The green-and-white bus in the dusty Kabul courtyard is outwardly indistinguishable from thousands of others on the roads here. But Afghan security forces believe this vehicle is anything but ordinary. The bus, say Afghan police and intelligence officials, belongs to a senior Al Qaeda operative and close associate of Osama bin Laden who was planning a terrorist attack involving chemical weapons-possibly against Americans or multinational peacekeepers. ...
  • Kabul Time Capsule

    To visit the U.S. Embassy in Kabul--or indeed most other places in this city--is to enter a time warp. When I recently visited Zalmay Khalilzad, the newly appointed American envoy to Afghanistan, young Marines decked out in full combat gear and desert camouflage waved us through the embassy compound toward a 1960s concrete hulk festooned with sandbags. "It's a little bit weird [living here,]" said our Marine officer escort. "Just take the 12-year-old beer. Or the ditto machines." ...
  • Seeing History For Yourself

    Since September 11, NEWSWEEK's reporters have witnessed many momentous events, from ground zero to Afghanistan. Here, several of our frontline correspondents tell what they saw--and felt--in covering some of the most memorable moments in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.It was the first Friday--Sept. 14--and President Bush had come to inspect the ruined area not yet known as Ground Zero. I noticed a crushed fire truck sitting on the edge of the inferno. Within moments, the president nimbly scrambled aboard. Standing a few feet away, I heard a retired firefighter, whose name is Bob Beckwith, quietly ask Bush if he should step down from the truck. The president, with a bullhorn in hand, draped his arm jauntily over Beckwith's shoulder and whispered to him to stay put. "We can't hear you," someone in the crowd yelled as Bush started speaking. "I can hear you," the president shouted through the bullhorn. "The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these...
  • A New Arms Game

    Vladimir Belous should be very disappointed. The former general, a veteran of the Soviet Union's elite nuclear-strike forces, has spent the better part of his retirement working to discredit U.S. plans for missile defense. At the behest of the Kremlin, Belous has treated foreign diplomats in Moscow to countless presentations about its perils. The small but energetic general used to explain in frightening detail why the White House push for a revised Star Wars system would lead to a "new arms race."But something strange happened when the dreaded moment of truth finally arrived. In one stroke last week, President George W. Bush called an end to a 30-year era of arms-control treaties. Bush made good on a campaign promise and announced that the United States would withdraw from the antiballistic-missile treaty in six months--in order to test missile defense systems that are now prohibited. It was the first time any country had unilaterally abrogated an arms agreement since World War II....
  • Robbery, Russian Style

    The call came in the wee hours of a frigid subzero morning. This winter has been a particularly cold one in Moscow, and it was harder than usual to drag myself out from under the warm covers. But this time I didn't hesitate: "Your office has been broken into," the voice in my ear had said. Just minutes later, I was dressed and setting off across the courtyard."What now?" I wondered. Moscow is the kind of place where you get used to fending off nasty surprises. The hot water gets shut off without warning, or a construction site suddenly materializes in the corridor in front of your door. A monster traffic jam can form anywhere, at any time of day, without rhyme or reason. The street you were planning to use to get to that urgent interview is suddenly cordoned off for 40 minutes because a senior official needs to hog it. A few years ago, Muscovites were regularly getting killed by ice falling off high roofs, or being swallowed up by boiling water suddenly emerging from burst pipes...
  • Putin's Pragmatism

    It's probably dangerous to use body language as a barometer of international relations, but I couldn't help being struck by Vladimir Putin's demeanor just before he left for his U.S. summit this week.The Russian President was leaning back in his seat, one arm raised to the back of his chair. An aide placed a teacup and a plate of pastries at his elbow. Putin grabbed a snack and munched as he listened thoughtfully to a journalist's question. Then Putin cleared his mouth and delivered one of his customarily thorough answers.I was there as one of a small group of U.S. journalists invited to speak with Putin before his meeting with President George W. Bush. This wasn't the first time I'd seen the Russian president up close. Five months earlier, I'd been part of a similar group facing Putin at the same big circular table in the Kremlin Library. Now, the contrast couldn't have been greater.That time we encountered a man who clearly felt under pressure to prove himself. Formidably briefed,...
  • A Poison Pill?

    Khodemuddin is an Afghan warlord with a thing for flowers. The Northern Alliance leader has converted two rooms in his house into a makeshift greenhouse filled with orderly rows of potted red geraniums. High on the wall hangs a wicker cage with a bright yellow canary. Sometimes, when the commander is sitting there having green tea with guests, he'll open the cage door and let the bird fly around the room a bit. While his pet is enjoying its ration of freedom, the commander will show off his other favorite possession: a Soviet-made heavy machine gun. He's happy to pose with it, Rambo-style, ammunition belt draping to the floor.In many ways, Khodemuddin's house is a lot like the Afghan war. A study in jarring contrasts, it's a perfect illustration of a conflict where ambiguity is the order of the day. It was in this room, about ten days ago, that the flower-loving commander--who, like many Afghans, uses only one name--explained to me why the Northern Alliance shouldn't even...