You Missed It
Americans Claim Role in Yeltsin Win
Russia: Consultants say they spent months in
Moscow secretly devising U.S.-style strategy.
By ELEANOR RANDOLPH
15, 2017 "Information
- July 09, 1996 -
— A team of American political strategists who
helped Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive
presidential bid earlier this year said this
week that they served as Russian President Boris
N. Yeltsin's secret campaign weapon in his
comeback win over a Communist challenger.
while some Muscovites are debating whether the
Americans saved Yeltsin's job or merely provided
one voice among many working to revive the
Russian president's political chances, the
consultants have now emerged to give interviews
about how they quietly peddled advice to
Yeltsin's 36-year-old daughter and key advisor,
don't have candidates generally who are as
responsive as Boris Yeltsin," said George
Gorton, who worked for Wilson in 1994 and later
ran Wilson's abortive bid for the GOP
nomination. "Certainly not Pete Wilson."
in February through a San Francisco firm with
connections in Moscow, Gorton said that the team
members never met Yeltsin. Instead, they sent
their detailed, unsigned memos to his daughter.
"We were told that we were formally retained as
advisors to the Yeltsin family."
Although the Americans spoke no
Russian and worked through translators, they began
secretly laying out an American-style campaign to
counter the public sentiment running against
started, Yeltsin's approval rating was about 6%,
and, as they told Time magazine, Josef Stalin had a
higher positive rating in their polls. Yet last
week, Yeltsin defeated Communist candidate Gennady
A. Zyuganov by more than 13 percentage points.
interview here Monday, Gorton said that he and his
colleagues quickly realized that Yeltsin did not
trust his campaign advisors to help him win
reelection and placed more value on the advice of
she didn't know anything," Gorton said. "She's very
bright, very articulate, very strong-willed, but she
didn't have the first idea about campaigning, not
even the ideas that a child here would have."
Americans were brought in by a circuitous route.
Felix Braynin of San Francisco, a Soviet immigrant
who is now a wealthy consultant to American
businesses working in Russia, began helping the
Yeltsin campaign last year.
asked about American advisors who could help, San
Francisco lawyer Fred Lowell suggested Gorton and
Joe Shumate, an expert on political polling, and
Richard Dresner, a political strategist who has
helped not only Wilson but President Clinton in his
earlier campaigns for governor of Arkansas.
Americans will not say how much they were paid,
although their fee has been estimated at about
$250,000. They were told that their involvement had
to be treated like a state secret because of fears
that the Communists would use their presence to try
to foment anti-Western sentiment among voters.
worked in hiding on the 11th floor of the Kremlin's
lavish President Hotel in downtown Moscow. The hotel
can be entered by invitation only. After six weeks
inside, Gorton and his colleagues began to sneak out
for occasional meals in the city or to go into the
countryside to help conduct some of Russia's first
have to understand is that this hotel is a
minimum-security prison masquerading as a five-star
hotel," said Steven Moore, a 28-year-old political
consultant who joined in the effort.
The team is
still secretive about some of its Russian business.
Dresner prefers to stay mum about whether he was in
touch with his old colleague Dick Morris, now
Clinton's chief campaign advisor. Citing certain
"agreements" that they refuse to explain, Dresner
and Gorton acknowledge only that information about
their work was made available to the Clinton White
American advisors also worked with the Russians on
such details as replacing a poster of a scowling
Yeltsin with a smiling version. They suggested that
some negative ads needed to be more
subtle--persuading the Yeltsin campaign to pull one
poster that showed a hammer and sickle made of
Yeltsin's Russian advisors felt strongly that he
could not criticize communism, especially since
Communists had done so well in parliamentary
elections in December and their leader, Zyuganov,
was doing so well in the polls.
followed the American advice until the last few days
before the first round of balloting June 16, Gorton
said. At that point, however, the Russian advisors
canceled the anti-Communist ads. About the same
time, Dresner said, Yeltsin's campaign polls showed
a flattening out.
Yeltsin took their advice, the Americans said.
most troubling moment in their adventure came when
it appeared some of Yeltsin's advisors in the
Kremlin were trying to convince him to cancel the
election. At one point, the Americans believed that
a Moscow pollster was handing out false numbers
showing that Yeltsin could not possibly win.
"It came to
the point that we wrote a memo I would never have
written anywhere else. We said: 'This campaign is in
the bank. It's over. It's finished,' " Gorton said,
meaning that Yeltsin had won.